Charles Zhang

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Free the mind or constrain the imagination? what is the role of our current education?

It is often asserted that the purpose of education is to free the mind and the spirit. In reality, however, formal education tends to restrain our minds and spirits rather than set them free.

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    May 3 2012: Children's minds are constrained by the curriculum. That they learn anything that really matters is a miracle of their persistence. If you watch primary-aged children performing experiments in science you see the wonder in their eyes as learning takes place. Over the course of a few years that is trained out of them. Observing secondary students (especially those in exam classes) you see the boredom of following the teacher's instructions and 'finding out' what they could have found out from a book. There's little new in science teaching - you could argue that there's little new in science itself at the level that school students can understand. Or you could argue that they need to know the basic stuff before they can start to think about problem-solving the more complex ideas - then again, if their minds were free they would be thinking about problems THEY would like to solve and developing the skills THEY need to solve them with the support of the teacher. Let's face it, schooling is designed to produce people fit to work in industry/commerce. Education is something quite different.
  • May 3 2012: I agree. There is little in current trends in public education that liberate thinking and creativity. The model is designed to entrench the status quo using linear processes when we know that the world is calling for more conceptual thinking and alternatives to an economic based ideology that is not sustainable. The real question then becomes who does public education reflect and who does it intentionally exclude? When I worked with students considered to be 'at risk' I found that they had to make sense of their learning in the big picture before the smaller pieces made sense. They were marginalized, not because they were unable but because they were systems disabled. The structures were too narrow to accomodate the unique way the thinking.
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    Apr 29 2012: Last year I graduated from high school. Their educational system seemed normal, with the edition of a handful of great teachers. I feel there isn't much wrong with most of the worlds functioning educational systems. The biggest problem is how students perceive the gift of knowledge.

    All knowledge is designed to unlock the limitations of the mind. I must admit, I didn't fully understand that concept while advancing through past grade levels. The message I was getting from a society while growing up was I had to go to school in order to obtain money and a job.

    So when I thought about school, I thought about money. But what kind of focus does that draw to a young person who depended on his parents for money? I eventually linked having money and a job to a responsibility for a grownup. I was expected to stay into a "kids place". So maybe I settled for learning just enough to pass grade levels, and keep up with friends and what society expected of my age. I wish I could go back in time to change my mindset. I would've had a mind 10x stronger than it is now.

    My past mindset invited limitations of all kinds from complex thoughts that weren't exactly purely mine. I'm mastering staying out of illusions this life may bring, so I'm gobbling up information left and right for clarity and strength. That's what frees that mind, imagination follows.
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    Apr 29 2012: For over a century, mechanical factory models of teaching and learning have been at war with critical, interactive education.

    I will take the position that the purpose of education is to enable individuals to reach their full potential as human beings, individually and as members of a society; this means that these individuals will receive an education which will enable them to think and act intelligently and purposefully in exercising and protecting the Rights and Responsibilities claimed by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the American Dream.

    As you and I have had a simular discussion which I took knowledge and you took imagination as essentials.

    I submit a second issue that the US Secretary of Eduction has stated that the federal government should write all curriculum, design all tests, and print all text books to provide uniformity in education. Would that, in your opinion either free the mind or enhance the opportunity for developing the inmagination.

    I agree that the current systems restricts student in many ways, as Sir Ken Robinson stated in his speech "Education is killing creativity". However if Arne Duncan (Sec of ED in the US) gets his way our minds would be molded into the prevailing thought of the central government.

    Again Charles it is a pleasure to exchange thought and respect. All the best. Bob
  • Apr 28 2012: We need to consider that long ago those who were innovative did not have the access to the education there is now. Some innovators were innately passionate, but others acquired their passion through their environment, also naturally. This should be the first clue towards the solution.

    Therefore, I believe the solution does not lie in a system that is structured with an assembly line/one size fits all format. The only way to succeed in educating children would be for parents to understand that their children's education and welfare is their responsibility and not the state's.

    Parents have to expose their children to more than video games and structured soccer games. They have to allow their children the freedom to fail and learn on their own, or at least from their child's perspective. In my opinion, the parents have to be within reach to help guide their child's learning process, but at the same time they cannot be over-protecting them from life's experiences; which are a necessity for developing the child's mind.

    The educational aspects that I am talking about are not English, Math and Science that will help children become more innovative. It is allowing them to experience real life at an earlier age. Sheltering them from our jobs and getting hands on experiences early on has hurt them. I have heard the following so many times, "Let kids be kids." Well, what exactly is that, because all kids are different. Some kids think it is fun to tear a motor apart, operate a piece of equipment or watch their parents working. However, they have made this illegal in many cases. The latest example of this is when they tried to make it illegal for children under eighteen to work on the family farm in the US. And we wonder why children are not getting the exposure they need to be creative. They have to have contact with the real world and real things. Pretending to do something without ever experiencing known fundamentals limits their imagination.
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    Apr 28 2012: The education model needs to be revamped to catch up with society. The days of the 3Rs are going the way of the dodo bird, and so are the old guard educators. We need to see more progressive thinking in the curriculum, new ways to teach the next generation to think outside the box. Whether we like it or not, more and more, the global community idiom is overtaking the state/country. It would not surprise me to see a 'all for one' mega world, where there are no countries vieing for supremacy over the other. And in that light, our next leaders, inventors, and scientists need the freedom to create the best for man-kind. Where does this start? It starts in the elementary grades, and shouldn't stop...at all!
    Unfortunately, the above is a utopian view. Educators and their management need to invest in creating new ways to teach our children. The old guard that I spoke of, is hanging in there (unions) and because they are either lazy or just don't want to learn new ways, they continue to use the repetition method of teaching. If nothing else, it just frustrates those who are being tought, our kids, our future.
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    Apr 28 2012: i think it all depends upon the institution that you are enrolled in!!!
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    Apr 28 2012: If you mean what do classrooms currently emphasize, this might be different in different parts of the world. I would say that the focus is often the use of imagination within constraints. That is, there is a lot of emphasis on problem-solving, which employs imagination to find solutions that meet certain conditions.

    Or when children learn to read, they are prompted to construct for themselves what the main character is probably feeling, to predict what might happen, and so on. When children read, they will automatically imagine scenes, so the reading of fiction or history is an exercise in imagination, but focused by the text.

    Writing exercises for school often derive from prompts, so kids use their imagination within constraints.

    I agree that if we want to improve students' educations, it is important to understand clearly what is actually happening in classrooms rather than to assume that we know. There is a popular assumption that those outside education have different values for children than those inside- that those outside value everything progressive and that those inside don't. I do not believe this is an accurate belief.