A couple of days ago I was having a discussion about the history of the school system and since I have two degrees in education, a bachelor in pedagogy and a master’s in educational sociology, I saw myself as an expert in the subject of discussion. But as the discussion continued I was shocked to find that I didn’t have many words about the history of the school system – a topic that has been at the very core of my education. I looked within myself expecting to find a ton of information because I’ve literally been immersed in lectures and textbooks for over five years and what I found was but a tiny, vague cloud of key words, theorists and certain historical events. In that moment I had to admit to myself that in spite of my degrees, I’m not an expert in education.
When I started investigating how it is possible that I could have studied for over five years without fully integrating the information I was supposed to learn, I looked at my relationship with vocabulary throughout my life as I’ve also discussed in previous blog-posts.
Because as I’ve been investigating my vocabulary I have realized that I’ve created a glossary of vaguely defined words. Many words I will be able to speak or write and place into meaningful sentences, but I wouldn’t actually be able to explain what the word means. Instead I have observed how other people use words and have learned how to effectively imitate an expansive vocabulary. And it is the same with how I’ve studied for the two degrees I mentioned previously: I have more imitated the process of learning and being a student than actually integrating information and concepts. As such I’ve come to the conclusion that I haven’t really learned anything substantial about education. And this is ironic because I work as a teacher and education and especially the education system is one of my passions. I am sure that there are many people out there with similar experiences which is worrisome, because how many of us do not walk around faking our way through our professional and even our personal lives, using vocabulary that sounds good, but that has no roots within us?
So I have begun a process of reintegrating vocabulary, which literally means going over even the most basic words and actually checking within myself whether I have a sound and clear definition for each word. Ironically I have no problem spelling the words – but what I realized as I begun this process, was how easy it was to fool myself into believing that I knew what a word meant when in fact I didn’t. So I would go over a word and think to myself that I understood it, but when I started asking myself to as soon as I saw the word before me, immediately define it within me or out loud, I couldn’t. And the more I allowed myself to honestly investigate what words I had a clear definition for, the more I realized how shallow my vocabulary has been. What I mean by shallow is what I explained before with how the words aren’t clearly ‘settled’ inside of me. They are more floating in an undefined space which obviously also contains the risk of misinterpreting the meaning of words – where as words that I have cleared understood and defined for myself are Here and rooted within me, as a part of me that never goes away.
I now see how having a shallow, floating and ungrounded vocabulary can cause severe problems in one’s life – because most of the time I would be ‘winging it’ and actually speaking about and using words I had no idea what meant. However I have also seen how writing my master’s thesis has supported me to expand my vocabulary. Because here I was forced to delve into the information and in order to make sense of what I was writing, I had to re-write what I was reading in a structure that made sense to me. I also underlined each word I didn’t understand and looked it up to afterwards use it actively in my writings – so eventually what I wrote and what I read became a part of me. With the information I read for my thesis I can much more clearly relay details and historical processes because I actually worked with the information actively and immersed myself within it. And it astounds me how ineffective our education systems are at making this a part of the didactic process, because for me, it was only at the very end of my education that I actually learned something in a substantial way and this was even in a project where I was doing all the work alone without lessons or lectures or specific guidance from a pre-established curricular. In fact, such projects are what I have learned the most from throughout my entire course of education.
Our education systems, from preschools to elementary schools, high schools and universities are not ensuring that we integrate information at a substantial level where the words that form our vocabulary become an integrated part of us that we are able to utilize in certainty and clarity. Because of this vocabulary has become ‘muddy’ and open to interpretation, selective even – because we focus a great deal more on how words make us feel than what they actually mean in practical reality. This is also why advertisers so easily can squirm their way into our minds – they are educated in and understand the effects of words and how people respond to them, while we, the meek consumers gladly absorb the promises of existential happiness, freedom and bliss as though these were substantiated in reality.
I am realizing the importance of a vocabulary grounded in reality, because without it, it is so easy to accept shallow illusions as wisdom. Some say that words are empty and that we as humans are the ones breathing Life into them. It couldn’t be more in reverse: Words themselves cannot be empty, because words are rooted in reality – obviously there are fantastical words too, but even these words can be traced back to reality in one way or another, even if it is to the delusional minds of man making up illusions. The emptiness of words is in who we are as we speak and write them and teach them to our children without making sure they are grounded in reality to function as building blocks upon which we live and communicate and interact with one another and the world around us. We must make sure that our vocabulary can become alive and become relevant to our actual living – that is what Education is supposed to be all about, isn’t it?
I recommend reading the following blogs:
Natural Learning Abilities blog series – a MUST READ!
Education is a Human Right Deconstructing the Root of All Evil World’s best Education is based on Equality The Fall of our Education System Application of Knowledge, is it being Fostered in ourEducational Systems? – Education Research Part 1