Is education lighting a fire or filling a bucket?

I have a huge amount of work to do, yet this afternoon I have found myself enthralled in a number of coincidental conversations about the role of ‘incentives’ in getting students to engage with assessment, or dare I say, with learning.

With permission, I am copying  parts of Phil Langton’s latest message:

I’m coming rapidly to the conclusion that the mistake we make is to fail to put ourselves in the students’ shoes.  We ask lots of questions and expect that by weight of numbers of sheer dumb luck the  students will begin to see the world as we do.


What drove my own learning in my early years was my upbringing – to be obedient and respectful of my elders and to anything to the best of myability.  This was what I knew my parents would expect of me.  Right there is a problem that has become larger and larger. [true of me too Phil]

 Later, when I had more interests and I was old enough to indulge them without fear of arrest, I worked hard only on those things that were of interest or that would bite me if I ignore them (ie examinations).  The examinations at the time were not of a type that one could do well in simply by some cramming of facts – there was some understanding required.

This is the difference between using a foreign language dictionary and being able to speak the language – at least a bit. [I’ve never been much good at languages, but I think this is true too.]

We have an increasingly difficult job to do to hook the students’ interest – there are just so many attractive alternatives….  Being theatrical only gets you so far. Personally I think we need to stop asking lots of little bread-crumb questions and instead throw the problem at them in full.  We have to get science students everyday to observe and think like scientists and not have them simply learn and remember what other scientists have done; to simply vomit up the history science to date – ignoring all the blind alleys and wrong turns that were made along the way.  That does not a scientist make!

 I think it was Aristole who is supposed to have said, “education is lighting a fire, not filling of a bucket”. [this quote seems to have been attributed to Yeats or Plutarch but whatever, it’s great!]

thanks Phil.

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