Friday, January 22, 2010

Forum Post: Cusp

Mark Twain once said, “Never let formal education get in the way of your learning.” While this statement is open to interpretation, I believe that when he refers to formal education he is referring to the standardized, static, and conformist education that we receive in schools. To a certain extent formal education has a set way to do things, there is no exploring, and there is no discovery. When he says that this ‘formal’ education gets in the way of learning, he is really saying that formal education gets in the way of discovery. True learning happens through experience, it happens through trial and error. It happens by trying new things, by taking risks, and by not holding yourself back. While formal education has its value, a teacher can only teach so much. At some point, we can only learn informally, but through our own passion. So what is the role of technology in all of this? Indeed, I think it has very much blurred the boundary between formal and informal learning. Using the Internet to learn is a form of informal learning, and while there can be a lot of very informal things on the Internet, one could also find many sites that are ‘formal’ education. Encyclopedias, databases, Calculus web-blogs, all these varieties of formal education can accessed informally through the Internet. Mark Twain may have felt that formal education is a limit on what we can learn. But in today’s world, where formal and informal education aren’t as easily differentiated, we can learn more than ever before, the sky is the limit.


  1. Dear Babar, thoughtful post. It is obvious that you put a lot of effort into this post and you articulate yourself well. I must, however, respectfully disagree with you in some of the areas in which you stated your opinion.

    I do not feel that the education we receive in schools is 'conformist.' Maybe the act of going to school can be viewed as conformist, but all across the country, teachers are passionately and progressively trying to find ways in which to connect to their students. I do not feel that the education students receive is memorize and regurgitate any more. To a certain extent it is, but I feel that our education is more application of learned concepts and critical skills.

    Formal education does have a set way of doing this, but I feel like there IS discovery and there IS exploring. Maybe not in every class all the time, but I feel that teachers have caught onto the fact that students do not learn well when they are just expected to memorize. In my experience, I have been challenged to find out new concepts for myself. To discover how they work and to explore their applications.

    Lastly, to reference the big picture, I do not feel that Mark Twain means that formal education gets in the way of our discovery --or maybe 100 years ago he did, but I think that is not its current meaning. I think he means to balance out formal education and informal education. One can spend his whole life mastering formal education, but if he has no informal education, he is likely to fail in the real world. So, I think that this quote means to keep up both types of education, to have a balance, and to be able to apply and succeed in life by being a jack-of-all-trades.

  2. I would have to disagree with you dammitimmad, I think Babar happens to be largely correct to their statements. I believe as well that you can only learn so much through a class room and the vast majority of education happens in the world, when one is simply living life.

    "he is really saying that formal education gets in the way of discovery. True learning happens through experience, it happens through trial and error. It happens by trying new things, by taking risks, and by not holding yourself back." Babar said it perfectly there if we do not seek out opportunity and embrace the world we will never truly learn. You can be told something a million times and see it done just as many but never truly learn it for yourself. Mark Twain is accurately stating that unless you brach out beyond a formal education you will never truly learn and understand.

    In life you never stop learning, so being open to discovery is a beautiful mindset to pocess.

  3. I also was inspired by the Quote Winn Plot highlighted and absolutely agree with you. I think that you made a great point that though teachers are reshaping the way they teach, there is still a level of learning that must be accomplished out side of the classroom. CRMS does a great job of this through outdoor trips that encourage us to explore things outside of the class room, but in the end we are in control of our own learning and i agree that the internet is a great way for us to find our own discoveries. I agree with dammitimmad that the meaning of Mark Twain's quote has changed, but i do think that he would still be critical of "standard education". i think Mark Twain would just want everyone to question what they are taught and be brave enough to make their own discoveries by challenging society. What we know about the world has drastically changed in the last two hundred years our discoveries could change everything we know about the universe, we just have to be open to them.
    very inspiring indeed, thanks for your thoughts Babar : )

  4. I agree with dammitimmad, in that learning in the classroom does not have to be static, but unfortunately it often is. Teachers are often forced to follow a certain strict regiment for their curriculum, for example with most science courses or AP classes. I would have included math classes in this list if it were not for this year where Bru has stretched the boundaries of the classroom. On the other hand I agree with the statement that the internet offers a great abundance of opportunity for learning, if it is your passion, but it requires a great amount of initiative. This is a very interesting discussion, thanks for stimulating my mind.

  5. Babar, I liked your response to this post and how you defined the quote from Mark Twain in your own words. I agree with you about school and formal education and I was wondering what kind of education you think CRMS provides? I admit there are many dull moments at this school, just like at any high school, but I have heard from some students who have transferred from or to this school from normal public schools who have said that the reason they like CRMS is because many of the classes really make you think about issues and the world (informal education???).

  6. Babar,

    In one of my current classes, we've been reading Piaget, a famous scholar of education and psychology. He argues that we are born as natural experimenters, curious to explore the world around us. According to Piaget, we learn through this exploration. During my one year of teaching elementary school, I observed this frequently in 5-7 year old students. But then when I became a high school teacher, it seemed like this natural inclination to experiment and explore had been curbed. What are your thoughts on this observation? Do formal math classes in school tend to curb the natural urge to investigate? Do you think it has to be that way? Is it possible to have a formal math class that fosters the ability to investigate? Interestingly, it is partly this question that led me to graduate school.

    Interesting thoughts, Babar.


  7. This has been a great conversation to follow. Each of you has contributed to the thread of the discussion, which started with Babar's thoughtful post to the Forum Question. It is through conversations like this that ideas get analyzed, revised, and refined.To everyone who has commented to Babar's post thanx and keep the conversation going!