I truly believe that everything we do in life must have a goal or purpose. Look around and you’ll see that most of what occurs has a specific outcome in mind. During this holiday season, the airports and roads are filled with travelers. Their goal? They want to arrive safely at their destination. Football, basketball, hockey teams? Their goals right now are to have winning seasons.
But how do we define the goal or purpose of intangible and wide-reaching activities like education? When asked why they come to school, an informal survey of elementary students turned up answers like “so we can learn,” “so we’ll get a good job,” and even “so we can make friends!” These all sound like worthwhile and lofty goals, but are these the only outcomes we expect when we ultimately see our children walk across a stage and receive their diplomas?
I recently came across a quote attributed to the well-known journalist Sydney J. Harris, in which he says, “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”
I was reminded of this quote as I walked the hallways of our school and listened to the youngest students telling me that their favorite subjects were lunch and recess. I was reminded once again when I observed a fifth grade student ask his teacher why he had to learn how to multiply fractions because he was sure he would never use it again.
And it suddenly occurred to me that these students were simply looking into the mirror – they only saw education for what it provided them during one isolated moment in time. As educators, our role requires us to take students beyond their own personal reflection, and help them to make the connection to the world around them. In essence then, our goal really is to “turn mirrors into windows.”
We accomplish this task through the introduction of authentic learning – providing opportunities for students to use critical thinking skills, and creating a bridge between that which is provided in textbooks with the experiences and ideas that constitute the “real world.” We encourage collaboration among peers, for in the “real world” we rarely work alone without input or guidance from others. We insist on driving questions and asking things like “I wonder what would happen if…” because we know that problems in the “real world” seldom come with a neat set of multiple choice answers.
We are in the midst of an exciting time at our school. While students are busily working in the lower school, construction workers are even busier pouring tons of concrete as they prepare to erect the walls of the new high school. Every day, students look out the windows of the lower school building and watch the progress being made on the construction. I too look out the windows, but instead view it as progress being made for the future.
So as the first half of the school year comes to an end and we approach a well-deserved Winter break, please don’t forget that the learning doesn’t stop when our students leave the building. In fact, I would like to think that the learning becomes “real” when students are given an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned by moving beyond the mirror and exploring the world outside the windows.