The Latin word from which we get 'educate' is educere, meaning "to draw out." Etymologically speaking, today's education system is a far cry from its roots. Rather than "drawing out" the qualities of each individual and building upon them, most schools are far more concerned about "putting in."
Most school systems operate more like an assembly line out of the industrial revolution than we would like to admit in our contemporary society. Students enter into each classroom, one by one, for a pre-determined time allotment throughout the day. Each class disseminates information and reinforces necessary subject-oriented skills. Students are tested and assessed to determine if this knowledge and these skills have been mastered. At the end of a semester or school year, students receive a stamp of approval (or not) and continue one to the next class. Check. Done.
Imagine that this assembly line below from Charlie Chaplin's classic Modern Times is full of students, moving ever onward with no pause and no allowance for uniqueness. Each student is tweaked and adjusted, then sent on down the line to the next Master Tinkerer (or Educator) to be further shaped and molded.
It is the rare teacher and the rare classroom that instills wonder, mystery, and community in their classroom. Can you imagine taking a class on Compassion in secondary school, or even at university? What about Peace-Making? Or Friendship? Perseverance? Creativity? I could go on...
These are qualities that almost all cultures universally acknowledge as vital to what it means to be human, yet they are missing from our educational institutions.
What might it mean to start from the ground of students having something to bring, right from the start of a class? They may not know the factual information yet, or understand the complexities of scholarship built year upon year - but they bring themselves. They bring their experiences, opportunities for the subject matter at hand to take root.
A good teacher does not "spitball" information at the class, throwing out concepts and information in the hopes that students will receive what they will. A good teacher knows his/her students, connects with where each one is individually, discovers the integral part each one brings, and leads them/entices them/cajoles them/encourages them/challenges them onward. (These are all relational terms!) To use a phrase, a good teacher is "a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage."
What might an educational system look like with these principles as the foundation for learning?