As I continue exploring the writing world and proceed with my first attempt at a novel, I find myself learning a lot of things I need to do. I'm also reminded about what education is really all about.
We worry about education so much in the United States, but we go about it the wrong way. I'm not talking about what we expect our kids to learn; I'm talking about how we go about it. Most of the time, we focus our education concerns on how well kids test. We spend time comparing test results to other nations, we worry that we aren't number one and we decide the best option is to test more frequently to make sure nobody is falling behind.
Meanwhile, we are losing sight on what learning is supposed to be all about: Allowing a person to explore something on his or her own, experiment with what he or she has researched, then have somebody who understands the subject examine what that person has done and critique it, pointing out what was done correctly, what is incorrect, what the person did well and where the person needs improvement.
As I have started novel writing, I've had to learn plenty of things, even though I write for a living. Newspaper writing and novel writing are not the same, so I have plenty to learn. And the only way I'm going to learn is to sit down and experiment, then get feedback.
Sure, we could figure out which authors and writers are the best based on how well they remember all the writing advice they got and test them on their grammatical skills. But that does not mean the authors and writers who get the best test scores are going to be the best at the craft. In fact, I suspect most authors and writers would strongly object to the idea that test scores should be the standard by which authors and writers are judged.
So if we believe it's a bad idea to judge authors and writers based on how much they remember to pass a test, then why do we insist that's the best way to educate our kids? I realize that not every child starts kindergarten knowing how to read or do simple math problems, but why must we test the child so many times to see what they are doing? Wouldn't a better method be to let the child sit down, demonstrate what reading or math skills they have, then let the teacher examine them, explain to the child what he or she got right or wrong, and what the child did well or needs improvement?
There are ways to do this without it sounding like you are putting a child down. Even at a young age, if you start out by telling them what they did well, then follow it with what they didn't do well, and explain what they can do to get it right, that's more likely to encourage a child than to slap a test down in front of them and judge them based on whether they pass it or not.
That doesn't mean testing should be scrapped entirely. What it means is we need to focus more on how a child really learns, and that's by experimenting, figuring out how to get better or how to get the correct answer, and then sharing it with others to find out what worked and what didn't. It's no different from how authors and writers get better at their craft: Experiment, figure out what works and what doesn't, and get feedback.
We can debate about what teaching methods are the best and whether or not there needs to be national standards in place. But every time I hear a teacher complain about teaching kids these days, the words I hear most often are "we test too much."
That should tell us something about how we are going the wrong way with learning -- and that we authors and writers should look back at our own writing experiences and know what was the real way we learned.