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Dec 12, 2020  •  6 min read

Everyday learning

The meaning of an education is to provide people with enduring insights and information not previously known. Education is often synonymous with formal instruction set within an institution, with an elaborate system of policies, teachers, and corresponding relationships between such parties. However, education can broadly refer to any form of instruction that enriches and broadens the minds of students. In this sense, the purpose of an education is not necessarily mastery of rote memorization, nor the qualifications and grades that come with formal instruction.

CMU

Education is meant to cultivate critical and open minds as its first priority, since these skills are absolutely necessary for the fullest participation in society. Moreover, education is a valuable tool in aiding and raising awareness of the struggle of those who lack means of resisting subjugation or persecution. Social change can only happen once a critical mass of ordinary people can rally towards society’s betterment, and this itself is accelerated if people are provided with means to appreciate crises affecting society today and can engage in discussion.

The current education system

Modern teaching and learning essentially consisted of the same activities that defined teaching and learning in the decades prior. The status quo should be familiar to anyone who has attended school: a teacher lectures students according to a textbook or some guiding material, students take notes to help them engage with the material, exams assess whether students have sufficiently mastered the content, and grades are finally assigned to reflect a student’s learning. The onset of the pandemic has subtly changed some of these mechanisms, but aside from the lectures simply being transferred to an online format, the remainder still applies. COVID-19 may have changed the activities of education, but not the fundamental methodologies. This established system of education is what is known as the ‘banking model,’ where students are akin to containers in which teachers are supposed to insert knowledge.

schoolroom
This classroom in 1963 bears many similarities to those found in American schools today.

Unsurprisingly, this has been criticized for bounding student curiosity and critical thinking. In response to the shortcomings of the banking system, the emergence of critical pedagogies has disrupted the otherwise static system of pedagogy we can see today. Theorists such as Henry Giroux, Gloria Watkins, and Peter McLaren have emphasized the importance of framing education in the context of the dominant social issues surrounding societies. The classroom, in the perspective of the education reformers, ought to be a grounds for inspiring students to contextualize their learning. An education need not be confined to the classroom and its lectures, but rather introduce a broader critical discussion of how education can help the enfeebled and powerless. These models of education challenge the banking model’s reliance upon lectures and vacuous facts, and are designed to help students retain more of their education beyond graduation.

Learning experience contributing to social change

Kurzgesagt

schoolroom

Kurzgesagt, also known as In a Nutshell, is a well-known German animation studio on YouTube that produces various educational videos. The channel has matured since its initial founding to now include topics on philosophy, computers, biology, economics, current events, and more. The most compelling content to emerge from the studio today discusses how science might lead to advances in our understanding of space travel and the human mind.

Consider this video which discusses the ethics of genetically modifying unborn children to carry advantageous traits. It presents a level-headed account of the potential benefits and drawbacks of such a practice, as well as the various directions this practice can take if mishandled. The call to action is for people to begin considering how this can affect themselves and their family decisions as this underlying technology matures, so as to be ready to begin an informed discussion about the sensitive issues regarding family planning.

Seattle Times

The 2020 Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting was awarded to Dominic Gates, who published a series of articles chronicling the alarming flaws in Boeing’s 737 MAX. The planes were the result of problematic and hastily approved safety inspections, as well as inappropriate mechanisms that resulted in the deaths of 346 passengers and crew in two separate instances. Gates’s articles are simple enough for an ordinary reader absent of any aviation knowledge to follow along, yet detailed enough to paint a complete picture of the tragedy that unfolded.

It begs the question of how the FAA and Boeing—two significant and generally competent organizations—could have let such an safety oversight to occur. “Safety first” is a call-to-action in any industry across the world, with Gates’s excellent journalism helping to instigate a massive public dialogue on how planes are inspected and tested in the modern age.

Accessibility for the future

Towards the ending of the 2007 Pixar film Ratatouille, the food critic Anton Ego (played by late great Peter O’Toole) ends his review of the eponymous dish with:

Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.

This was a particularly profound thing to hear as a kid, and as I have grown up I have reflected on the significance of Ego’s closing. As it relates to this course, I recall the many fascinating and engaging content that I can see on any content-driven social media website I use. An Instagram feed and my YouTube recommendations are filled with interesting things that relate to my hobbies and academic interests. Not everything is particularly productive, but on occasion I find myself learning about something wholly unfamiliar and intriguing; most recently it was something about computer cryptography.

In the spirit of Ego, I hope that everyday learning in the future can fulfill a crucial balance between things that are personalized to my tastes and interests, and diverse enough in scope that I can reliably expand the boundaries of my knowledge and skills. The internet is great at ingratiating itself with my attention span, so I imagine I will need to purposely reach out to the horizon of my comfort zone and practice active unlearning to continuously be able to learn and not become educationally idle, so to speak. There is much going on right now in the world, and key to unraveling these problems is a small step taken each day.

This was submitted for my final project for 82-228 at Carnegie Mellon University.