“Spewing up food exactly as you have swallowed it is evidence of a failure to digest and assimilate it; the stomach has not done its job if, during concoction, it fails to change the substance and the form of what it is given.” These words from Michel de Montaigne’s essay On Educating Children rang in my ear in the midst of my conversation with my friend, a college guidance counselor. Though many of his students had already heard back from colleges that offered rolling or early admission decisions, a majority of his students would be hearing a mixture of happy and disappointing news over the coming weeks. As an educator, I routinely try to reflect and assess whether I have done my part to adequately prepare my students for the challenges ahead. Yet milestone moments, such as students solidifying their next plans after commencement, always refocus my attention.
Montaigne’s words speak to the potential shortcomings of an education based solely on memory and regurgitation. I deeply believe that a proper education prepares a student to be a master of manipulation, as demonstrated by the ability to fluidly handle and wrestle with the subject matter and become a highly self-aware learner. Struggling to make sense of and applying personal meanings to ideas previously presented by others should be staples of good education. Properly done, this leads to the development of a student’s metacognitive skills because a student can judge their progress and attain enough self-enlightened flexibility to drive their learning.
Even with all these other positives one of the greatest advantages to this type of training may be the ability to transfer their skills in self-analysis to the analysis of others given students’ extensive exposure to their surroundings. The ability to evaluate the argument and intentions of other individuals is an important step in being able to work effectively in groups. A self-aware person who cannot relate or work with others cannot succeed in a society that demands constant interaction.
But then the question remains how do you develop self-driven learners who can appreciate and engage the thought processes of others? I believe it is important to create situations where students are given the opportunity to build their metacognitive skills. I also believe it is important to place students in environments where they have to work and learn the value of understanding the reasoning of their peers. Yet as Ted and Nancy Sizer speak to in their book “The Students Are Watching,” adolescents are constantly internalizing life lessons by watching the actions of teachers. All the effort put into creating well-designed lesson plans may serve little use if kids see their teachers contradicting these lessons in everyday life. I definitely support the idea that one of the most valuable ways of imparting these important lessons is to model the desired behavior. If understanding self-learning and understanding the logic of others are important life skills than teachers need to constantly practice and exhibit their importance to our students.