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Does education = learning = school?

Learning comes alive when you live it up close and personal
Learning comes alive when you live it up close and personal
Nancy Sathre-Vogel

ed•u•ca•tion [ej-oo-key-shuhn] –noun

- the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.

learn•ing [lur-ning] –noun

- knowledge acquired by systematic study in any field of scholarly application.

It’s funny how we associate these two words with school. A brick building broken into classrooms filled with desks and chairs and blackboards. School = education = learning Synonyms all three.


And yet – are they? What is education? What’s true learning?


On our journey biking from the northern end of the globe to the southern, we’ve allowed Mother Nature to provide most of the lessons for our children. We’ve trusted our sons to learn about the world around them. Education is so much more than school.


I’ve been asked over and over again about “holes” in my sons’ education. Will they know everything they’re “supposed” to know? How are we ensuring their education is up to “standards”?


My question is: What are the standards? How are they defined? And then I can answer my own question: They are pretty much random.


As a 21-year veteran of classroom teaching, I’ve served on my share of curriculum committees. I’ve sat there for hour after hour hammering out a curriculum – a list of standards that kids will learn. I’ve also seen just how random that list is. If I’ve learned one thing from my adventures in and out of the classroom, it’s that schools don’t have all the answers.


Don’t get me wrong – the idea behind a curriculum is fine. They try to ensure that each child learns the same things as another – regardless of which teacher he/she has. I suppose there is some value in knowing that all children entering fourth grade in a particular school will know the phases of the moon or the parts of a flower. It makes it easier for the fourth grade teacher for all of her students to have the same base.

But really – does it matter if a kid learns about the phases of the moon in third grade or seventh? Is there something magic about being ten years old that makes it easier/more effective/more real/more whatever to learn about the history of your state at that age? Does it really matter when a kid learns something? And is Idaho history really one of those must-knows?

We recently landed in Puerto San Julian along the Atlantic coast of Argentina for a few days. The area was rich with history so we took advantage of our time there to learn about the history of our world. We visited a life-sized replica of Magellan’s ship and learned about his voyage and how they wintered in San Julian because the weather was too severe to travel. OK, then – we can check that one off the curriculum. Yes, that is on the curriculum.


But San Julian also happened to be the staging ground for the Argentine military during the Falklands War in 1982. For the Argentine people, the war is recent and very meaningful. Emotions, even though 30 years have passed, are still raw and jagged. The pain of defeat is still evident. Extraordinarily evident.


To make the lesson come even more alive, we happened to be in San Julian with a British cycling friend – so we heard the story from both points of view. In short, we were living history for a few days.


Some would argue that learning about the Falklands War is nothing more than useless trivia – after all, it’s not in the curriculum. It’s not “supposed” to be taught.


I beg to differ.


My sons saw history up close and personal while we were in San Julian. They saw an actual warplane with pictures of the six British ships it sank painted on its side. They heard the stories from both sides. They heard about a ruthless, egomaniacal dictator and an obstinate, pigheaded prime minister. They saw the folly and the wisdom on both sides of the argument. They understand why Argentina invaded and why Britain fought back. Who’s right? The jury is still out.


But the lessons here go so much deeper. Just as there were many, many reasons for the Falklands War, so were there many reasons for any other war in history. The American Revolutionary War was, in many regards, similar to the Falklands. The Civil War? Certainly some parallels. WWI? WWII? The Vietnam War?

Once the idea of the “causes” of war became clear, it was only a short step to considering the causes of other wars. And they all come down to two sides; two stories.


So I ask you – is there a “hole” in my sons’ comprehension of history? Or is a comprehensive understanding of the intricacies of world politics sufficient?


For the record, I think my sons have a much greater understanding of the world’s wars than most seventh graders you’ll talk to. Even though they’ve never studied them.


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