I recently wrote these thoughts down regarding the goal of education. They are pretty preliminary, but I thought I would post them and hopefully begin a conversation with my readers. Feel free to comment and I will try to interact with your comment. Below are my thoughts:
Some Basic Thoughts on the Goal of Education…
In the past few years I have taken a couple of graduate school classes that have reminded me more of grade school than graduate school. Not because of the content of the class or the concepts being discussed but because of the assignments given. In two separate classes that I have had the majority of the assignments called for a simple regurgitation of facts and not a synthetic processing that would show understanding. The goal of education definitely includes the learning of facts, but learning facts in and of themselves should never be the ultimate aim. One is able to regurgitate facts without processing and this does little if anything to foster true learning. Learning does not truly begin to take place until the facts that are learned are integrated into a holistic system of thought. After these facts have been integrated they are then solidified as life presents opportunities to implement the knowledge gained.
How to Study History
The end goal of all of history is the displaying and praising of the glory of God. In light of this no serious study of history should be taken up for the mere gaining of facts. The study of history should be a means whereby a few things take place. The first and ultimate of which is that we gain a further understanding into God’s sovereign control over every event that has transpired in the world. As we see a fuller picture of God’s orchestration of history it should cause us to be moved to praise Him all the more as we see Him working to redeem a people in Christ from every tongue, tribe, language, and nation.
A second thing that should take place is that we process the events of history through a biblical worldview. Among other things this means emulating the example of those who have gone before us especially in areas where their lives were noble, wise, and praiseworthy. It also means learning from their failures and seeking to avoid similar mistakes.
A third thing that should take place in the study of history (which is related to the first two) is that critical thinking, spiritual, and moral assessment skills are challenged and hopefully strengthened. When a “seemingly” ambiguous historical event is studied the wise student should seek to press on all angles of the event in order to get to the root and assess the event from a God-centered lens.
How Learning Should Be Assessed?
Do these three things mean that an assessment of base-level facts is unimportant? No; however, any assessment of a students abilities that is based entirely on base level facts is at best pedagogically short-sighted and at worst pedagogically lazy. On top of this there is an institutional selfishness that pervades many schools. Let me explain.
The Minimization of Student Development
Often times when a student is only evaluated on a base level it is because the professor feels other things are more urgent. The professor has writing deadlines, the pressure to publish (or perish), other areas of research that demand their time, and a desire for vocational advancement. At other times a student is only evaluated on a base level because of sheer laziness on the part of the professor. Rather than creating and then grading an exam that calls for a synthesis of the material a professor will take the easy way out and create a base level assessment that can be graded in a few minutes. As you can see the students’ development can easily be brushed aside for both legitimate and illegitimate reasons.
Another reason why students’ development can be minimized is because of institutional selfishness. Rather, than seeing themselves as an organization that is in the process of educating students they begin to see themselves as a corporation that is in competition with other corporations. They then make their own renown and financial desires the predominating concerns of the “educational process.” In order to do this the pressure is placed upon the professors to write and research more. These demands then become the primary areas where the professors are evaluated. When the professor is not being evaluated on the development of the students there is a tendency to give less and less concern to their pedagogical practices. The academic institution has decided to evaluate and determine their own worth not in their ability to develop and educate, but in their ability to recruit and promote well-known scholars.
The Traditional Solution
The traditional solution to this problem is that some schools are research focused where as others are teaching focused. Is this solution acceptable for seminaries? I do not think so. The goal of most seminaries is to train those who will have teaching responsibilities in the context of local church, para-church, and seminaries. In light of this any professor who teaches at a seminary bears the responsibility to develop critical thinkers who know how to synthesize academic material. Thus it would seem appropriate that any evaluation of a student's abilities should be based on their ability to synthesize material and not just regurgitate facts.