Search This Blog

Friday, April 17, 2015

Educating that Character...

There's More in You Than You Know
        - Hahny-Bear (Kurt Hahn)

Finishing up the last few weeks of the '15 Spring Semester, I've been spinning in metaphysical circles trying to complete my first thesis paper of my collegiate journey.  Throughout the class, Origins and Directions in Adventure Education, we've been rapping over academic and theoretical applications involved with delivering a solid Outdoor Adventure Education program, synthesizing our weekly topics and comprehensive learning by churning out a boat load of papers, creating and formulating an online professional presence, and constructing our personal philosophical definition of AE.  I hadn't thought about it before, but this last piece is so crucial to the transference of learning in the field to the world of job markets and recessive economies... especially when most of the time, as a reaction to the mention of spending my not-yet hard-earned money (i.e. college loans- woohoo!), people often ask why I studied camping and playing outside in college.  But that's a whole different story...

For my thesis topic, I decided to focus on the theory of grit in reference to character education.  It's an amazingly tough topic to tackle, and I've realized it's especially hard, as well as super exciting, to channel energy into an area of focus that is empirically vague.  Angela Duckworth initially developed and presented the concept after working as a teacher in the Bronx for several years, resulting conclusively that academic grades alone does not correlate with higher levels of success in life (Check out her Ted Talk here!).  As a result, she proposed that the more developed non-cognitive qualities embodied by students can provide a more durable foundation that supports reaching long-term goals, inevitably promoting comprehensive prosperity in post-education circumstances, such as higher sense of well-being, self-efficacy, and positive demeanor in addition to securing better jobs.  It's a concept that struck me initially as a no-brainer... until I realized that this type of assessment in standard education has surfaced at a critical juxtaposition of societal cognizance.

I have researched so many articles, scholarly journals and Ted Talks, and a few concepts struck me as super poignant.  From the revolution of tax-supported education during the industrial era, the arterial processes of academic pedagogy haven't changed much, aside from the exception of specialized schools such as private or religious-based, charter, and special needs.  One issue I noted, especially after seeing a few talks by Ken Robinson (check out his fantastic Ted Talk list here), the system is outdated and sterile; by promoting academics through aged practices such as rote memorization and standardized outcome-focused assessment, the individual process can be misplaced, along with their creative inclinations and divergent methods of thinking.  I thought, by focusing on the average of the whole rather than the talents and interests of the individual, 'average' practices are created and maintained, thereby limiting the needs of those who don't intrinsically conform to constructed social norms. Does teaching standard academics (math, science, writing) in normative infrastructures promote the average? How is the average deciphered and decided? What are the exponential cognitive and non-cognitive losses and gains of teaching to maintain these 'average' standards? So many questions, ahhhhh.

... I could definitely go on about this for a while. As an outdoor educator, I have found that I was one of these students who struggled to conform... until I found Prescott College.  Prior to finding this magical place, I often felt like a lost individual just trying to keep afloat in the swamp of socioacademic expectations. I found that if I didn't equate what I was learning with personal value, or at least have the opportunity to explore why what I was learning mattered (aside from getting good grades which would get me a good job... so I've been told), I often felt disconnected and disinterested... until I realized how my parents would react to poor academic standing, which was reason enough to at least try.  However, there are so many student youths who don't have a strong support system, whether it'd be familial, cultural, demographic-based, or systemic; these factors can drastically affect how non-cognitive skills are learned, formed and implemented in their daily lives, which directly affect cognitive abilities such as learning, understanding, and remembering information.  So, when this notion of grit, described as a non-cognitive trait based on an individual's passion for a long-term goal, combined with the drive and motivation to keep truckin' through adversity need to reach the endstate, I immediately associated the idea of grit, in the context of character education, with the learning outcomes and pedagogues of outdoor education.

Another big issue that is continuously debated in outdoor education and education reform alike is the assessment of these subjective, and seemingly immeasurable, anthropological developments.  In the context of outcome specific programming, like Outward Bound or Expeditionary Learning Schools (ELS), the institutions construct learning outcomes interrelated to the students' development of character; these social and intrapersonal skills are often emphasized through intentionally facilitated curriculum that directly correlate with the program's technical or academic focus.  This might insinuate that the curricula are specialized, not standardized, and provides analogical evidence supporting the following: professionally developing an individualized institutional infrastructure, which supports the concise learning outcomes of that establishment, is more efficient and beneficial to the educational outcomes of it's students.

There's some heavy goings-on here, that's for sure... and I love it.  This class is rocking my world, pushing me to synthesize all of these experiences I've been accumulating while applying academic theories and philosophy, which is totally helping me organize my thoughts into a contextual application.  I'm heading back to work for Outward Bound in California this summer, and I'm so pumped to keep expanding my experiential learning capacity by implementing my class work into field courses.

No comments: