This article originally appeared in the May 2001 print issue of The Teaching Professor. Read Maryellen Weimer's reflection on it here.
Two readings triggered my thinking about contrasting images for education. In Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, Mr. Thomas Gradgrind tells us that education is stuffing facts into the minds of students. The more, the better. The quicker, the better. In current terms he favors “information bombardment.” It is a storm, a downpour of information on students. In contrast, the poem “A Tree Telling of Orpheus” offers an image of education as melodious music—slow, subtle, and yet touching to the very end of every nerve. Real education is not a storm, but a drizzle.
Storms come and go fast. When the downpour reaches the ground, the water runs away quickly—little moisture gets into the ground. Drizzle offers a different image—fine, slow, silent, and yet penetrating. Drizzle soaks into the ground. The Chinese have a saying: “Real education is like the spring drizzle, silently penetrating and nurturing.”
When the teachers bombard students with facts, students become passive receivers and memorizers. Their thinking may stop. Their feeling may stop. Their dreaming may stop and their enthusiasm end. Facts teach what is, not what could be. John Dewey observed that true education does not offer packaged information, but helps us think about the possible effect of what we are doing on what we could do.
Deadlines, quotas, and mathematical quantification expedite the coverage of content, but they slow down the accomplishment of impact. Rushing students may not be a very good idea. The more you rush them, the more tired they become. The more tired they become, the lazier and more resistant they become. With the rushed stuffing of facts, the students may have more in their mind, but much less in their hearts. The problem with the “rat race” is perhaps that even though I win the race, I am still a rat.
Education, like music, should give us the image of ease and joy. You don’t rush. Students touched by the music of education will go faster than your imagination. When you really begin to listen to the music of education, you become one with it. It touches you, every part of you. It changes you, to the very bottom of your heart. It is something enjoyable, something that the more you do, the more you love to do it.
Education should be as gradual as the moonrise, perceptible not in progress, but in result. Guard against the modern economics of efficiency. Embrace the genuine economics of effectiveness.
Xin-An Lu, PhD, is associate professor in the Department of Human Communication Studies at Shippensburg University.