“Self Direction”


At the University of Florida, I had a professor who hated grades. He basically said that grading and the grading system is what ruins education and limits what we do, not only as art majors, but as students in general. From the student perspective, at first I was like, “What? You don’t care about grades? But how am I supposed to know how I’m doing?!” Looking back at it now, and even a few months into my first semester with that professor, I’m thinking: wow, isn’t that sad! Is that all education is about? Getting good grades and getting through the semester? No way, it shouldn’t be.

So where did this even come from? I’m no expert on education, I’ve never been employed at a school or anything like that. I am a student. Yeah, I graduated from university already, but I’m never going to be done learning. No one should ever consider themselves done with their education just because they are no longer receiving a score for it. In my opinion, the simplified explanation for this way of thinking comes from this idea that students need something in order to be motivated to learn, and we have to “know” all of these things in order to be functioning adults with general knowledge in society. I remember the first time I was given an open-ended art project assignment with no parameters set for materials, style, medium… anything. I was scared and confused as to how I was supposed to come up with something without any sense of direction. Looking back at it now, how was I not?! Jack Stenner was right, of course. I was able to “self-direct” my education and did the research on my own. And you know what?! It felt great. I wouldn’t trade my Fine Arts education for anything.

Jens Peter de Pedro posted a link to this article on his Twitter account today. The timing is awesome because I was just thinking about a project I want to get started on. Amy Harrington says, “Our goal for learning should be to foster a love of learning for learning sake… True learning is intrinsically motivated and the reward is knowledge.” She talks about how the education system should be giving children the tools to explore the world for themselves and think critically about things on their own, to create. What would a classroom look like if a child was given this freedom? What would the teacher do? Does there have to be a classroom?

When I was little, I used to spend hours playing “teacher” to my class of stuffed animals sitting on the staircase. I’d make up lessons, staple together little notebooks for them, and take the time to meticulously sharpen pencils that were too short for me to use at school anymore. As I got older, that focus turned to thinking about what the animals were eating during their school day. I would buy yarn and cotton pom poms to make pretend pasta for school lunch. Older still, I started focusing my attention on the way the students dressed. I’d sew little uniforms and backpacks for them. I am thankful to my parents for never stopping me from doing this. I’d be lying if I said I don’t want to play like I used to. I miss sending my stuffed animals to “Oakie Oaks Elementary School” or letting my Barbies have random adventures on their vacation. I am grateful that my parents allowed me to borrow their digital camera for hours on end just to hold photo shoots for my Barbie dolls or my dogs.

I think there need to be more and more open-ended, sandbox-like games/toys/apps that allow children to play as they would like to. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while now. The project I’d like to get started on involves the way I used to play (mentioned above). I guess part of the desire comes from wanting to be able to simulate that play, but without all the stuffed animals and the paper… but it’s bigger than that. I think there’s something important that could be learned from allowing a child to set up their ideal scenario in a classroom. I haven’t fully gotten a concept together for this yet, but I am really looking into this. Thinking about what I said above, the staircase was my classroom and I was in charge. What do you think? Should children be put in charge of their own education? If you’ve read any interesting articles on this, please send me the links!

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