Environmental Education

What sort of environment suits you? Do you function better in tranquil surroundings or do you thrive in commotion with a side serving of chaos? Are you academically oriented or athletic? Perhaps creativity is your thing, or you need a little of all of the above?

Each of us prefers certain conditions and feels energized by specific subject matter. But are we well matched to the environments in which we find ourselves?

A friend of mine is a long-time teacher. Occasionally we discuss secondary school education, his perceptions of the diversity of students he has encountered, and the expectations of their parents. Some are of those expectations are on the money. Others are unrealistic. And what parent doesn’t have blind spots when it comes to their children?

More than once, my friend has mentioned the assumption that everyone will attend college. But is every kid college material? Or college material at that particular time in life?

How many kids are pushed by insistent parents (and packaged up for college consideration) – woefully, dutifully, and dully following the standard curriculum and the “usual” expectations?

Taking Cues from Our Kids

For the student who muddles through classes without enthusiasm, I wonder what might develop if alternate environments could awaken genuine motivation. After all, we may not be raising the next CEO or great surgeon, but instead – the entrepreneur or caregiver, the talented athlete or extraordinary chef. How does it make sense to squeeze them into a generic academic track?

Might some 17 and 18-year olds learn more from a stint in the Peace Corps or some other international service – something to open their eyes to the larger world? Many of us believe that we should find our passions and pursue them, but what if you haven’t explored sufficiently to know what those passions are?

Parenting for the College Track

Perhaps I haven’t a right to discuss this issue. My sons were bright; I pushed them to achieve and to shoot for good colleges. But it seems like yesterday that my younger son was inundated with classwork and the burdens of his college applications. Add to that the portfolio requirements for architecture, and the pressure in our household teetered in the danger zone for months.

Don’t think I didn’t spend countless hours worrying if my “guidance” was too intense, particularly watching my younger deal with one all-nighter after another.

As I look forward to my sons returning for the holiday break, I’m certain that my elder is happy where he is, and excited about heading overseas for the upcoming semester. As for my younger, I’m aware of his initial (positive) impressions. Yet I imagine he’ll have much more to recount, and I’m hoping his university environment is well suited to his learning style and creative passions.

Matching Environment to Passion, or its Discovery 

For me, college was about study, about socializing, about focusing and also expanding. I worked hard during the week, and enjoyed the parties on the weekends. What I learned about myself, and what I learned about learning remain immensely important as I recall those years.

College served as a foundation and without question, opened doors. But life experience has been the greatest teacher.

  • Do you know what environment suits you?
  • Are you still searching?
  • Were you pushed into one field because it was expected, only to discover that you felt drawn to another?
  • How would you feel if your kids said “I don’t want to go to college?’
  • Do you hang your hopes on your child’s future, based on what you did or didn’t choose?


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  1. Educator says

    As a high school teacher, I see the American mindset taking away personal responsibility in education. We are preventing students from discovering themselves, which is totally the opposite of what education should do. I agree, we are packaging them. You can’t expect passionate learning when you tell students what to do. Self-discovery is essential.

    At the same time, what seems to have disappeared in the process is providing general knowledge. Students are ignorant of history and geography for example. But we (teachers) are preparing them for jobs, or so we hope.

    In former days you went out into the world with a wide array of subjects so you could better choose and better learn how to make a living and contribute. We need to encourage more options, including overseas exposure and community service, along with the basics and not learned simply for a test, but learned. We also need to emphasize critical thinking. Learning how to think. For example, the common usage of multiple choice exams does not encourage critical thinking.

    The system has become focused on testing (and teaching whatever will get a job), not learning.

    Let’s give them the recipe, but let’s not cook it for them.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Very provocative, Educator. I hadn’t thought about the prevalence of multiple choice tests in the classroom (I certainly realize that’s the standard for SATs, etc., still too heavily relied upon for college apps in my opinion).

      I’m curious how you would see applying overseas experience to the American public schools? Wouldn’t this suggest a revamping of our entire educational system, or am I making assumptions?

      And thank you for joining the conversation. I hope you stop by and discuss again.

  2. Educator says

    Yes, I am suggesting an entire revamping.

    Take the educational system national as in Finland for instance.

    Fire all the school boards and administrators.

    Create equality for all by funding education NOT through real estate taxes (not equitable).

    In typical American fashion, we think technology will improve education. It doesn’t. It makes students lazy and they plagiarize.

    Offer higher salaries to attract more talent in teaching as opposed to recruiting from the lower 20% of the student bodies, which incidentally is where teachers come from in this country.

    What if we tested students with a blank sheet of paper to see if they have learned anything?

    Take the extracurricular activities OUT of the curriculum. By definition they are extracurricular, aren’t they? Create community options for sports and other extracurriculars so these stop interfering with academics because they do. It isn’t that these activities are unimportant, but they need to be separated.

    On that topic, here’s an example. Parents come to teachers and say “Johnny will be kicked out of football unless he has a B” and the teacher is expected to provide a B regardless of Johnny’s academic standing. Or, Johnny comes to class and says “I couldn’t do my homework because I had football practice until late.”

    A few more suggestions include no longer requiring multiple assignments to ensure what should be learned efficiently, eliminating useless homework, and making failing classes a reality. We should make failure a reality in schools because failure is a reality in life and it’s part of learning. We must stop pretending and we must stop lowering the bar.

    Decision makers in education don’t deal in education. They deal in career agendas and politics.

    Yes I am suggesting we need to revamp our educational system and actually make our schools learning institutions.

  3. says

    First, I think this country has a wealth of options in higher education, and even within each school there is a variety of groups and focuses. I believe in college. But, I know it’s not for everyone. Taking time to know yourself isn’t a bad idea. But losing oneself in the drift of life is terrible too (though that could happen in or out of school).

    I disagree a bit with the educator. Extracurriculars are important. Some kids are motivated by art or music or athletics. The self expression allowed in the arts is a piece of knowing oneself. Movement is not just necessary for a healthy body, but truly helps learning. That said, these are extras, and shouldn’t take away from academic work. Sports schedules need to respect homework, for example.

    As for the testing, our state is revising tests to more open ended ones and schools are scared. It’s easier to teach ‘facts’. But I think any test given on a large scale is fraught with problems. I graded them once. The part written on blank pages.

    Learning to think for ourselves takes time and freedom. To extend your metaphor, students need to know the basics and how to find less common knowledge, but no one was ever a good chef without experimenting.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      I would also agree that extracurricular activities are important. I’m interpreting Educator as believing that as well. My impression is that he wants less dependency / pressure on teachers and administrators to use them as an excuse or free pass with regard to the basics. (But that’s my interpretation of his remarks.)

      Testing is always problematic. Multiple choice makes grading easier and faster (and can be automated), which, if you back into the logic, could mean one teacher could be responsible for a larger number of students (not a good thing). When you have essay-based testing, that’s got to be far more time-consuming to assess, and more difficult as well.

      No simple answers. And certainly, all learning is helped along if parents believe it is important.

      I do think back to my many periods in Europe, and the fact that those I met and knew who had stopped after secondary education were far more knowledgeable on a wide range of topics – and not superficially – than I was, with my “elite” educational credentials. That makes me pause, wonder, and also worry.

  4. says

    What I actually learned in college was how to have a good time, college being essentially fancy summer camp with books, parties, libations (etc.) and girls and boys of all likes, stripes and persuasions.

    What I did not learn was anything at all about how to make it in the real world, and I’m still paying for school(s) (and yet consider it to have been personally worth it).

    I agree with very many of the points made here, and it truly breaks my heart to see kids left out of the game from the beginning (owing to a society that clearly does not value education for all, being too nervous and competitive to embrace it).

    While it doesn’t quite break my heart, it does sadden me to see many children who are bright and “deserving” (of a chance to feel adequate) getting rejected from schools that are inflated, grandiose and like so many naked emperors parading around cloaked in less than Ivy.

    We need much more attention to the beginning of kids than to the final stages of education—that’s where one can teach empathy, kindness, compassion and the value of the group as well as the individual. That’s not rocket science, but with it you can build better rockets as well as schools.

    Our fundamental mistake would be in waiting and wishing that the powers that be will improve things. It’s on us and if we actually care and act like it (and make it look fun, like Tom Sawyer painting that fence) eventually it will be patently uncool to be uncaring and unkind. That is true right now if we say, think and do so.


  5. says

    I went to a fancy Ivy League school, and what I learned there was how to be charming. If I had been interested in money, it would have opened a few doors. As to testing and grades, I have never understood what they accomplish. I had to pass a lot of tests to become a doctor, but no test or grade has ever contributed to my being a better physician, although they certainly discouraged me from learning to think independently.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Fascinating feedback, Wolf. And independent thinking is critical, as is cross functional thinking. (Certainly in medicine, no?)

      Would you be surprised to learn that in some countries they use multiple choice exams in medical school? Terrifying thought. Must I look to see if American med schools do that these days? It could explain a few things…

  6. BigLittleWolf says

    @Bruce – Wonderful viewpoint on our need to pay more attention to good beginnings for our children. May they also provide the variation to expand their worlds, and may we have the wisdom not to narrow them just a few years later.

  7. says

    I love what Wolf said. I had a similar experience. And I think many kids are not ready for college right out of high school — some would do better working (if there are jobs to be had!) or in a volunteering/service capacity.

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