The fire of education burns quickly

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Commentary by Arthur Ogden

Although it receives attention during other times of the calendar year and, in particular during the voting season, education is the focus of much of our attention at this time of year, and for an obvious reason.

It is perhaps the only time of year during which youngsters are genuinely excited about going to school.

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The summer months have allowed them to measure the world on their own terms, but when school days appear on their radar screens there is that anticipation of seeing their friends again, and the challenge of facing a new set of teachers.

With this comes an enthusiasm about school throughout homes and households which is not duplicated until next year and, sadly, which quickly diminishes within the first few weeks.

There are myriad rationales for this phenomenon, but the most obvious is that establishment education cannot match the excitement young minds have experienced in their own venues during the summer hiatus from the organized classroom.

Now, this is no indictment of the noble and concerted efforts of millions of dedicated teachers throughout this great land who expend endless hours of preparation and planning to teach their young charges.

Rather, it is an abbreviated analysis of why our children become bored with school.

At the same time, this is not intended as an absolution of crucial parental responsibility to support schools in the home with attitudes of encouragement and checking homework assignments.

When all is said and done, what I proffer here is an analysis of what education is, what it does and what it should be – all in the confines of a single opinion column.

Admittedly, this is only a sketch, but after almost four decades as an educator I have come to the conclusion that the quotation by William Butler Yeates has condensed the process and the intended result of education into a rather complete formula.

In the wisdom of a pithy locution, Yeats offers a rubric which simply states, “Education is not the filling of a pail.

It is the lighting of a fire.”

It is this “fire” that youngsters have been dancing in all summer with their discoveries of the world over which they preside and from which they glean an understanding of who they are and what they may wish to be.

But all too often that fire is extinguished in the formalized structure which creeps in with the late summer and early autumn weeks.

Yet the fire need not be extinguished, and, in fact, it can be enhanced by understanding that Yeates’ evaluation reveals a process of discovery which all of us enjoy and even endure throughout our entire lives.

That “discovery” is at the heart of all success enjoyed by good educators and practiced by all great teachers.

It is the element of learning application which yields those whom I label as “pedagogist” [PED-a-go-jist], or “one who is proficient in the art of teaching”.

It is vital to emphasize “art” in this definition.

As creations imbued with natural curiosity, we WANT to learn, and those things which interest us most are those things which create the greatest fire in us.

No matter what we engage during our lifetimes the end result is a kind of learning.

Recognizing this simple fact is what separates the “teachers” from the “pedagogists”.

The padagogist embraces a process of “guided discovery” in the classroom and in so doing extends the excitement of things learned outside the classroom during summer days into the necessary structure of classroom.

Ultimately, learning is an internal process, while teaching is an external process, and all a pedagogist or educator can hope to do is to inspire learning.

Such inspiration comes by understanding that the fire of education is buried deep in the heart of guided discovery.

Arthur Ogden, Ph.D, is Demopolis campus director for Alabama Southern College and writes a weekly column for The Times.