This semester, I’ve had the privilege of working as a tutor, helping students to improve their language skills. What my students don’t realize is that tutoring benefits me, too.
Most of these benefits are somewhat obvious. Tutoring is a chance to solidify what I already know, meet a new group of students, draw new connections through their questions and learn a host of new things through discussion.
Tutoring also lends itself to introspection and reflection about how best to learn and teach. This introspection has led me to reconsider many of the stances that I once held about education. I used to believe that the best way to mold a model citizen and a specialized worker was through the broad study of a number of subjects. I theorized that such a broad study gave students the tools to communicate effectively and reason cogently, all while honing a particular skill set.
Many scholars laud this concept of the “Renaissance man,” but just like all romanticized ideas, it’s far from flawless. We see this model put in modern practice as the widely despised general education requirements. These requirements accomplish the exact opposite of what they’re intended to do for student development.
In order to have a rich, long-lasting understanding of a subject, we have to develop a level of knowledge beyond that of memorized proficiency. This entails knowing why and how and obtaining the ability to analyze and evaluate, rather than simply parrot back what an expert has told us. In educational jargon, this hierarchy of knowledge is known as Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Because we tend to take one course in several disciplines to meet these requirements, we only achieve a superficial knowledge of these subjects and due to that, we soon forget them. Instead, we could have dedicated that time to achieving higher levels of learning within our own discipline. This often includes learning theory behind our field of study. Theory helps to make material more concrete within our own minds.
I am not arguing that future employment should be the sole driver of education. This philosophy of education seems bleak, killing curiosity and substituting it with cold practicality.
How can we find the middle ground? Creation of a curriculum where we work on our writing and communication skills within our disciplines would be a good start. Offering more interdisciplinary courses would help us to expand our knowledge while increasing understanding within our respective fields of study. For those who are unsure about their majors, these courses allow the simultaneous exploration of multiple fields of study.
Ultimately, the focus ought to be on the student’s choice of major. Even though the “Renaissance man” ideal is highly desirable, institutionalization of this concept detracts from individual learning. The most important goal of education is to give students the tools to enrich their own knowledge in the areas they most enjoy.