Friday, April 10, 2009

Positive and Negative Educations.

How often in higher education we fail our brightest students.

I had dinner tonight with a friend.  He dropped out of a rather prestigious private university--after several years.  (He gave it a good go.)

He loves technology.  He programs now.  He has his own startup.  And he wants to write educational applications that are also social media--or vice-versa.  

He knows the universe of social media.  He's insightful.

The fact that he wants to help higher education is rather surprising--given that he left formal education some time ago.

I asked him what his best educational experiences in college were.
  • I had learned, for instance, in my senior thesis how to explore my own ideas and to write them with pleasure and some degree of art.
  • I had learned in my junior theater project how to make decisions to communicate with an audience--and how the failure to make decisions damns your work to muteness.  
The exact stories are probably more interesting than the conclusions.  But I learned what was interesting and meaningful to me, how to develop my own thoughts and work, what my criteria for success and failure were.  

He was hard pressed.
  • He said that he took classes thinking he would be interested and ultimately learned that he was not.
  • Or he learned that a professor's statements undermined their own authority:  he was disabused with authority, and that was what he learned.
These are important lessons.

You could call them negative education:  learning what you don't like or want, what is not the case, what is not to be believed.

Positive education, by contrast, is represented by growth towards personal goals of self-fulfillment through engagement with others and with a pre-existing body of thought.  

Whether with technology or without it, positive education is difficult to foster.

And when we fail to attend to students' needs, they get an education alright, but not the one for which we might have hoped.

--E. R. O'Neill




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