Reflections - Back-to-School

Eleanor Deckert

Socrates taught Plato. Plato taught Aristotle. This matters? Yes. Today we have these ancient Greeks to thank for much of the structure we still see in educational systems we use in the West.
Socrates (470-399 BC) asked questions. This has become our scientific method, beginning with a hypothesis.


Plato (428-347 BC) is known as the founder of the first institution of higher learning in the Western world: The Academy in Athens.
Aristotle (384-322 BC) wrote on many topics, and the manuscripts have influenced education to this day: physics, metaphysics, biology, zoology, logic, ethics, poetry, theatre, aesthetics, music, linguistics, rhetoric, politics and government.
Ancient Greece seems a long way from the first day of school in 2017 in the North Thompson Valley, and yet we are linked together.
Teachers and students, speaking and listening, telling and asking, memorization and experiments, facts and curiosity, it's not too hard to imagine those early students and see the connection to our own.
I have given a lot of thought to the topic of education. My father taught graduate students. My mother taught kindergarten. I watched my own teachers, trying to see what methods they were using. I watched the other students, trying to see why some were struggling. I volunteered in public and private schools, and ended up putting 15 years into homeschooling our four children, developing seminars to encourage parents, and earning my Provincial Instructor's Diploma to teach adults.
Maybe you have noticed the same thing I have noticed. Part of learning is obedience to the teacher, copying the correct information, learning the right answer. Part of education is exploration, weighting alternatives, reaching for new ideas, being willing to begin a quest, reaching for an unknown result.
As a matter of fact, both of these meanings are embedded within the actual word “education.”
The Latin root word has two meanings.
One: “Educo” means “to train.” As a “teacher” I tell you “Do it this way.” I intend to fill the empty vessel. I provide instruction. I direct you to know right from wrong. I know things you don't know. I provide you with facts to correctly memorize. I make sure to pass on information to the next generation.
Two: “E” means “from” and “duco” means “to lead out of” and together “educo” then would mean there's something wonderful inside you already and I, as the teacher want to encourage you to explore and draw this wonderful something out of you. Let's discover what that is and nourish, empower, provide and protect that “something”.

Education sows not seeds in you
but makes your seeds grow. - Gibran
As you can imagine there is an ongoing debate between these opposing understandings of the word “education.”
Randall V. Bass and J. W. Good wrote a piece titled “Educare and Educere: Is a Balance Possible in the Educational System?” in the Educational Forum, 2004 trying to explain how these two understandings might inform educators today.
“The opposing sides often use the same word to denote two very different concepts. One side uses education to mean the preservation and passing down of knowledge and the shaping of youths in the image of their parents. The other side sees education as preparing a new generation for the changes that are to come--readying them to create solutions to problems yet unknown. One calls for rote memorization and becoming good workers. The other requires questioning, thinking, and creating. To further complicate matters, some groups expect schooling to fulfill both functions... Balance in educational aims is a valid focus for educators.”
These rather opposing views can be seen when we compare these quotations:
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 “These words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.”
No room for alternatives there. This exact command must be transmitted to the next generation. Or does the next quote point to a better way to provide for children?
Author unknown: “What need we teach a child with our books and rules? Let him walk among the hills and flowers. Let him gaze upon the waters. Let him look up at the stars. And he will have his wisdom.”
The Sage, the Guru, the Prophet, the Priest, the Professor, we listen to them all. Yet, in the end, we have to make up our own minds. Maybe we will follow this leader; maybe we see something else? At this time, we are bombarded with so many alternatives it is difficult to sort through the variations. Education helps us to do this. Follow logic. Do research. Build on a firm foundation. See the advantage. Prioritize. Develop a sequence.
Maybe both views of education are not polar opposites, but two halves of a whole - left side of the brain, right side of the brain?
To me, once again, it all boils down to the Serenity Prayer. And, this is how I organized my homeschooling lessons: What are the things that cannot change? 2 x 2 = 4, how to address an envelope, math and measurement, spelling, rules of grammar, facts and dates. What are the things that can change? Exploration, art, interpretation, creative problem solving, equally valid options to choose from, preferences.
What is your opinion of education?