The Deeper Purpose of Learning: Satisfaction
By Cord Ivanyi
In high-functioning schools today, there is a powerful push to rise to the top, to be “the best.” The GPA is the currency, and students work furiously to get as much of it as possible. The more of the 4.0 pie you get, the better you are. We acknowledge this in so much of what we do. We love the “99ers.” Do we celebrate the “76ers,” though? In some measure, I believe that we try to do so, but all too often we can be seen looking at the A student as the model. [Look at who is the Valedictorian. It is not a 76er.]
Not long ago, I was talking with a friend of mine as we walked through Philadelphia. He is a prominent physician, who had the opportunity based on his ferocious academic capabilities to study medicine at any university he chose. As we walked through the courtyard of his alma mater, he said something that stuck with me: “If you get through med school, no one is going to look at whether you got A’s or C’s. If you get through, you are fit to practice medicine, and that’s the bottom line.” [Are you? Is that why there is so much malpractice? Even if your are fit, somewhere in the world is the worst doctor. Personally I’d rather be treated by the A doctor than the C doctor. Of course I will never know.]
How can we teach that students who strive and receive C’s are not worse than students who don’t have to try, but receive A’s? Here is the crux of this ramble. How do we teach satisfaction? Is it teachable, and if so, what are we doing about teaching it? [Problem is these A students are better. They have an ability to learn better than most. Why do you want to teach that being mediocre is great? You should not teach, nor can you teach satisfaction. There are some people who will not be happy even with a 100! We have no problem saying that this person can run faster than that one and this person is better at something else physical than another. Why can’t we just accept that some people are smarter than others. I did not care what others got for a grade. I just did my best and generally got good grades. You worry too much about self-esteem of the kids. In a recent PISA test, I think, Americans were asked how well they thought they did on the tests. They thought they did much better than they actually did. You are even now teaching self-worth more than the subject matter at hand. At least, way too much of the former at the expense of the latter.]
I had a group of 7th graders accost me for giving them low 90s on a quiz, and even after I showed them where they went wrong, they continued to lament their grades. Off the cuff, I asked one of the plaintiffs whether, when she went to Dairy Queen and ordered an ice cream cone, she assigned a numeric score to the object she was purchasing. She shook her head. I asked her why not, for certainly some ice cream cones are better made than others, some have just the right curvature, just the right amount of topping. She shook her head again, and said, “It’s just an ice cream cone.” I continued, asking her how many things she appreciated without assigning a numeric value. She admitted that it was most things. I asked her why, then, was she losing sleep over a 95 percent score when I had clearly shown her where her errors lay. She said it was because 100 percent was better, and that was what she wanted. [This is a spoiled brat. Did she throw a temper tantrum? Or perhaps she was an A-type of personality. Even at that, she probably would prefer two scoops of ice cream to one. If she looked closely enough she’d see that she got less sprinkles than someone else. Also an ice cream cone is not as important as school. The stakes are much higher. Her whole future could and generally does hinge on it. There are exceptions, yes. One thing to learn is you cannot have everything. Why are kids even given the opportunity to question a grade? I did not think that that was even possible, at least in K-12. Or since when did it become possible? I never questioned a grade in K-12 ever.]
Satisfaction is something I believe we need to begin considering. How well can our students use what they learn, and do they feel satisfied when they do? How much of what we teach becomes irrelevant all too quickly, and what is the value of cramming for exams simply to regurgitate data that will soon be forgotten? [Firstly do not cram for exams. Again, what is the point in jogging (or gymnastics, etc) or doing anything else in school if it is not continued as adults? It does us good to exercise the mind, to learn.] What is the grand scheme of the learning process, and when do we stop students and explain to them that education is a tool, not an end, and that it is a tool by means of which they are supposed to find satisfaction? [School, including college is to see how trainable you are, how well you can learn. That is not the only reason but it is one. I went to school to learn not to get a degree, a sheepskin.] I am hopeful that some will have read my musings here and will have seen a glimmer of light between the curtains.
In a world of metrics, we must make a way for those with less to feel they can achieve satisfaction, and we must make it clear that those with the most have an obligation to share, and that therein lies satisfaction. [Dissatisfaction is fact of life. I wish I could have played major baseball or been a pro golfer or been a pro bowler. But even at that you do not hit more than .300 (30%) most of the time in baseball, on average and win even fewer percentage of golf tournaments, and rarely bowl a 300 game or win a high percentage of bowling tournaments.]
Cord Ivanyi is a Latin teacher at the BASIS Chandler School in Chandler, Ariz. He has taught for 15 years at various levels, from university Latin to 5th grade classics, [5th Grade Classics? What are you doing teaching 5th graders the ‘classics’?] with seven years spent teaching senior English at an alternative school. [Apparently never taught TAG (Talented and Gifted) students. At least it is not stated here, if he did.]
School should be just to teach the 3 Rs and little else (yes history etc). It should not teach health, etc, mental or physical. Concentrate on the subject matter and less on the psyche of the students.
Lack of satisfaction can lead to striving to do better!