Daniel Mai

Some Educational Learning Thoughts

One of the goals that I set for myself before starting college was that I had to get straight-A grades for my classes in school. How hard can it be (it’s SJSU, after all)? I felt that I was behind and below the rest of my friends who went to more prestigious colleges. Getting As would at least mean I’m accomplishing the best that I could, and that I would have a better chance at a future, whatever that “future” was going to be for me.

However, after every semester I realize more things about school, and my priorities have shifted.

One of the first things that I have accepted is that where you go to school doesn’t matter. People have been telling me this repeatedly, but it took me a while to internalize and accept it. People aren’t defined by the school they attended. In many ways, the institution’s culture affects and shapes our perceptions of the world, given that we spend around four years within their atmosphere. But you don’t introduce yourself to people by first saying which school you came from, because that’s not interesting at all.

Another thing I’ve accepted is that grades are not important, at least not as important as I thought they were. Every professor has their own way of grading course work, and yet all grades are considered equally on a college transcript. Some professors grade on the infamous bell curve, while other professors hack their grading scales based on whatever criteria they come up with during the course, extra credit et al. I waste a lot of time caring about what other people tell me what’s right and wrong, which is time I could instead use to focus on more important matters, like actual learning.

Reading Salman Khan’s book, The One World Schoolhouse, reinforced the fact that there is plenty wrong about the modern school system, and not just financially speaking (as much as we complain about the rising costs of tuition). The issue with our schools is ingrained in the pedagogy. Sal’s book provides a lot of context for why the U.S. education system is the way it is, how Khan Academy is changing that space, the purpose of homework, and all sorts of other great points on education and what the future holds for it.

While reading Sal’s book, I had a couple of weeks where I was reading and watching a whole bunch of Bret Victor and John Taylor Gatto, and watched the college documentary Ivory Tower. A couple of my favorite pieces are Bret’s thoughts on teaching and Gatto’s The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher.

There was an interesting discussion last month on the College Opportunity Day of Action about innovation and higher education. The whole panel discussion is recorded on YouTube, and starts an hour into the video and lasts about an hour. One of the main points was rethinking the perceptions that we have about our education, but one point that stood out to me (it happens at about the 1:44:00 timestamp of the video) was one that Freeman Hrabowski made in the talk about the need to learn how to ask the right questions. introducing the topic by prefacing it with Isidor Isaac Rabi growing up in New York and coming home from school with his grandmother asking him “Did you ask a good question today?” while his friends’ mothers would ask their children “What did you learn in school today?” His grandmother’s question encouraged his curiosity.

What did you learn today?