Question: What were the most enjoyable and the most frustrating things for you back in school?
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Answer: Well, the most enjoyable thing was that I was young and carefree. This age when people go to school is the age of formation; this time is filled with exciting things. The most frustrating things, however, were associated with this age, too—it is hard growing up, socializing, and getting to make life decisions for the first time. Concerning learning, I think the most exciting thing was the feeling of becoming intelligent.
From my early childhood, I was surrounded by people whom I saw as very sophisticated—my parents and their friends—and I felt that, as I was learning, I could talk about smart things just like they did, and it made me feel very good about myself. It was very frustrating not to see anything like this in my peers. Most of them displayed no excitement about learning and kept complaining about how hard and useless studying was for them.
Question: Did you never complain about studying being hard?
Answer: I did, of course, and it really was hard. But it is not my peers’ complaining that annoyed me. It was their unwillingness to learn. I remember one young man who kept telling everyone that he passed a course (that many people thought was a rather difficult course) without doing a single reading assignment. On the one hand, he was obviously bragging about being smart enough to handle something hard without trying too hard. On the other hand—and I do not think he fully realized that—he was proud of being in school and learning as little as he could. I was very upset about this attitude. Many young people I studied with came from upper-middle-class families, and I think they lacked ambition. They felt like their future was already secured, so they did not have to work hard on their education.
Question: What was the role of a teacher in your education?
Answer: In my education, teachers were everything. I mean, learning in school comes from a teacher and a book. There were a lot of great books, and I think there are books worth being read, but I would not have read any of them if it had not been for my teachers; and even if I had, I would not have understood much. Teachers made it exciting for me. I revered them. That is why it was especially scarring to meet a bad teacher. I had a teacher who made a lot of mistakes when he spoke—and even kids understood that—and he could not answer a single question on his subject. I had another one who was cruel—it seemed like she liked making children feel stupid. It is good that I had good teachers, too, and those two did not shape my idea of an educator.
Question: What do you think are the main improvements in education today compared to the time you were in school?
Answer: It is the technology. Although, it is not fully an improvement; it is still an opportunity and a threat at the same time. It sounds ridiculous today, but we had to go to libraries and look for books to write an essay. Today, a schoolchild can access all the knowledge produced by humankind with just a few clicks on their device. This should be extensively used in education. Speaking of improvements, many say that, today, learners are freer than we were. That I do not believe. They have more opportunities, but education still takes commitment and effort. I am not sure I understand what people mean when they talk about free and unfree education.
Question: What is the political importance of education?
Answer: Well, it is huge. If a government wants the country to prosper, it makes a great effort to educate the youth. If a government wants to rule forever and only cares about preserving its controls over the wealth and recourses of the country, it does not educate the youth, and even prevents the youth from being educated. Because educated people build democracies.
Question: What are the benefits of an educated person compared to an uneducated one?
Answer: An uneducated person lives in obscurity, which is a pitiful and miserable state. They do not understand many things, which is why they can be manipulated. An educated person can try to understand what is going on, what is important, and what is right. Educated people can act. Besides, an educated person can educate an uneducated one. This is extremely important.
Question: What is the main purpose of schools?
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Answer: To ignite the passion for learning.
The respondent has addressed several important issues concerning the philosophy of schooling and the schooling experiences of a learner. First of all, she talks about differences among learners coming from families with different income levels. She expresses the idea that, in her schooling experience, young people who came from wealthy families were less encouraged to study hard because they thought their future was already secured.
This seems to contradict the observation made by Lareau who stated that children from middle-class families experience more pressure associated with studying than children from low-income families because middle-class parents can dedicate much more attention to their children’s education (35). Both perspectives are valid, but they apply to different contexts. Also, the respondent says that there are books worth being read, and throughout the interview, she implies the importance of classical education, which is a major debate among education theorists. Spayde states that “[t]here are as many ways to become an educated American as there are Americans,” but classical education relying on the existing knowledge and curricula is still regarded as important by many people today.
Also, when talking about books worth being read, the respondent says that teachers were always more important to her than books. This dualism of the role of educational materials and the role of an educator is explored by Dewey who states that books are “representatives of the lore and wisdom of the past” (18), but the only way they can be useful to a learner is through the teacher. The respondent’s perspective fully corresponds to this vision and provides valuable evidence for the role of an educator in learning experiences.
Further, the respondent talks about the capacity of modern technologies for improving today’s learners’ experiences. She argues that technology presents both opportunities and threats for learning, which corresponds to the idea expressed by Toyama that “technologies amplify whatever pedagogical capacity is already there.” Used by experienced and inspired educators, technologies can make learning easier, more enjoyable, and more effective, but it should not be expected that any technology by itself can improve learning outcomes.
The respondent doubts that learners today have more freedom than before. The issue of freedom is one of the focuses of theoretical studies of education. Dewey suggests that a widespread perspective on the new education, also known as progressive education, is that it gives more freedom to learners (22). This is a debatable point because of different perspectives on the freedom of learning and different definitions of it.
Counts argues that people are not born free but rather learn to be free through education (13). This idea, however, does not address the issue of freedom of education. Dreeben reflects on the learner’s perspective in learning and states that “pupils learn the norms of independence, achievement, universalism, and specificity as outcomes of the schooling process” (84). All these theorists contribute to the recognition that education should not be restrictive but should promote freedom and independence. The respondent, however, has a different vision; for her, there is a confusion between what is referred to as the restrictiveness of education and commitment, i.e. hard working that any learning process takes.
Finally, the respondent addresses the role of education in democracy, which is also a major area of theoretical studies of learning. It is often argued that a democratic system cannot be built and supported without an educated society. For example, Tyack describes the efforts of early American presidents aimed at establishing a university to prepare the intellectual elite for the nation (37). The respondent explicitly states that education is a prerequisite for the prosperity of a country because uneducated people are easy to manipulate, and they may fall victims to their governments who only pursue preserving their power and access to resources. An educated civil community is needed to ensure that power is not abused, and democratic principles are followed. This is one of the main benefits of learning because it contributes to the well-being of society.
Counts, George S. Dare the School Build a New Social Order? The John Day Company, 1996.
Dewey, John. Experience and education. Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Dreeben, Robert. On What is Learned in School. Addison-Wesley, 1968.
Lareau, Annette. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. University of California Press, 2003.
Spayde, Jon. “What Does It Mean to Be Educated?” Utne Reader, 1998. Web.
Toyama, Kentaro. “Why Technology Alone Won’t Fix Schools” The Atlantic, 2015. Web.
Tyack, David. “Forming the National Character: Paradox in the Educational Thought of the Revolutionary Generation.” Harvard Educational Review, vol. 36, no. 1, 1966, pp. 29-41.