Teaching Men To Fish (Metaphorically): Pondering the Educational System

By Autumn Palen

A few days ago, standing across the kitchen island from my roommate, we discussed what our TED Talks would be, were we given the chance to have one. I talked about potentially studying the correlation between old parents and nerdy kids. Hers was much better. She had one in mind right off the bat, apparently having already pondered over it for quite a while.

My roommate works as a volunteer teacher throughout the week, helping 2nd and 3rd graders learn the fundamentals of science and math. Her TED Talk, as she had intricately sketched out in her mind, would focus on the inadequacies of the educational system. She had particularly noticed that many teachers of scientific subjects — Chemistry, Physics, Biology — teach facts, figures, and solutions, but not how to arrive at these conclusions. This method of teaching is all fine and good for passing quizzes and tests, but is detrimental to the future individual development of knowledge in these fields. Students know what the answers are because they’ve memorized them, but many may be incapable of finding the answer on their own, or knowing why the answer is found in a particular way.

You give a man a fish, and he’ll be fed for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll be fed for a lifetime. This is an old adage, saying that instant gratification is all fine and good (and gratifying), but the apprehension of a skill, while more difficult, pays off into the foreseeable future.

Photo by Richard Phillip Rücker on Flickr

I think my roommate had made a fantastic point about the teaching of science in the classroom. I too had felt the same way about how American schools taught foreign languages in K-12. There is an ambivalence, a lack of urgency — on both the teaching and learning end. One time, during an end-of-semester “presentation of learning” at my relentlessly Liberal Arts school, a girl in her senior year discussed the Honors Spanish class she had taken. Assuming her education as a Southern California student mirrored mine, she had been learning Spanish since 2nd grade. When she called for questions, I remember asking her if she thought she would be able to carry on a conversation in Spanish. She told me, without a shadow of a doubt, that she wouldn’t be able to. An entire decade of learning, and nothing to show for it outside of a good GPA.

Moving forward, I believe it’s important to think more about the application of subjects taught in the classroom. Those kids aren’t sitting there for ⅓ of their day for the sole purpose of passing their SATs. They should be using the skills taught in school to pursue further knowledge in these subjects in higher education, in order to obtain careers in these fields, and hopefully innovate the domains in which they work. In giving students a sterile page of abstract facts, figures, conjugations, and vocabulary into their brains, you are giving them fish. Guiding them through tangible projects and comprehensible examples is teaching them how to fish.

Featured image by James Wheeler on Unsplash

Autumn Palen is a junior majoring in Film & TV Production, with a minor in French. She is from San Diego, California and enjoys listening to music, watching TV, traveling outside of her usual parameters whenever she can, and drawing incessantly. She also loves learning about languages and lifestyles from all around the world.