Thursday, May 28, 2015

Is School Graduation an Accomplishment worthy of Celebration?

So it is the time of year again when students are graduating from college or high school and the resultant festivities abound. Of late has been the inclusion of elementary schools or preschools into the graduation process. It is a given that accomplishments are worthy of praise and celebration, especially those which are facilitated through rigorous application of one’s skills or knowledge. In light of that I believe all of this celebration honouring the act of completing an educational phase is misplaced.

From my perspective I saw being given a letter grade supposedly commensurate to my comprehension or application of the subject matter material as the equivalent of grading me on my “friendshipness” or “appreciation of the world” skills. This is because becoming educated should not be a chore. Rather it should result from the love of learning which is a step in the process of self-fulfillment. If education becomes task, a hardship to be surmounted, an ends in itself then it has been administered improperly. On that level it is no different than designing, building and then collecting never-driven automobiles in a museum.

I find the mystery of the niche carved out for celebration of formal education to be a compelling course of inquiry. Imagine if the same standard was applied to non-formal educational domains. Take healthfulness for example. Your doctor says that you have dangerously high blood pressure. This professional draws blood and has the nurse take your other vital signs. You are then scheduled for a follow-up consultation a week later. Throughout that week you sit before the screen of access to the magical world of the Internet and imbue yourself with knowledge about causes and remediation of high blood pressure. The scheduled day arrives and you return to your doctor’s office where you present to Doc your analysis of your condition and a diet, exercise and lifestyle management plan that will bring your blood pressure within the healthful range in under a year. Doc concurs with your assessment and plan in its entirety and gleefully proclaims you to be a success. Family and friends coordinate a celebration in honour of your achievement in remedying your potentially lethal blood pressure situation.

Celebrating the knowledge of how to improve one’s health or build a home for that matter is not going to extend your life or put a roof over your head. The knowledge must be applied. The same goes for athletics which has traditionally stood at the opposite end to formal education in the celebration spectrum. At a time far back in my life I was one of about 150 professional cyclist in the United States. Those of us competing at that level had already surpassed about 99% of the athletes who may have had similar aspirations. That was no cause for celebration though. Neither was finishing a race. It was the race that determined who would celebrate which was he who crossed the line first. The second guy was considered the first to lose.

With this comparative analysis in mind I return to education. Under the formal education celebratory schema applied to athletics the first celebration for me would have come upon acquiring a bicycle, which can be quite an accomplishment considering the price. This could be equated to demonstrating minimal proficiency across the domains of general knowledge such as is acknowledged through the awarding of a high school diploma. The next celebration would come when an elite bicycle is acquired which is tailored for a particular event such as a track sprint, track time trial, criterium, road race or road time trial. This would correlate to receiving a degree from a college or university.

There exist, however, a vast chasm between obtaining the equipment [or knowledge] and successfully using it in a real world scenario such as a race or occupation. So while we are attendant to the celebrations of our young people passing through another gate on the education continuum let’s keep it in perspective. Obtaining a diploma is no more of an accomplishment than Tiger Woods getting a golf club or Mark Donohue a race car. It is what they did with the tools of their passion that was cause for celebration.

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