In a recent, very enjoyable #edchatNZ focusing on reflection and the purpose and practice of education, Chris Clay made one comment in particular that caught my attention and sparked subsequent curiosity. He suggested that as educators, we reflect on the difference between education and schooling.
At a dinner party later that same evening, I took this question to the other guests, some also educators and all parents. A lively discussion followed and I found it remarkable to hear each person’s interpretation of the two words and their meaning. Some equated “schooling” with the loving, nurturing component of the overarching umbrella called “education”, while others saw it as the term defining the building or institution in which the “education” happens. Some argued that schooling is confined to one particular place, while education can happen anywhere, and still others felt it was the exact opposite - education being reserved for institutes of learning, while schooling reached beyond the walls of the classroom to encompass all of life’s lessons.
Charged by our dialogue and now filled with even more curiosity, I decided to take my question to the harshest critics – a group of middle-schoolers. I explained to each that I was looking for information to share in this week’s blog post, and then followed by asking: “What do you think is the difference between education and schooling?”
The first young man, who shall remain nameless, declined to answer and expressed that "at his age" he does not wish to have any kind of online presence, even if just a mention or a quote in my blog. I couldn’t very well argue with that logic.
Next Jacqueline, who was more than thrilled to go on the record, explained: “Education is when you learn and schooling is in a school. You can learn anywhere like at home with your mom or dad or from a sibling. Technically schooling is when someone is going somewhere and learning but schooling isn’t all education. Schooling is two-thirds education and the other part is dealing with peer pressure, teasing, worrying about if you fail, where education is nothing else but learning.”
Intrigued by Jacqueline’s interpretation, I continued with what I had now turned into a mission.
Samy explained: “Schooling is what we learn in class from our teachers such as math, science and English. As students, we have to follow all directions, do homework on a daily basis, report to class every day, and take tests. I do learn a lot from being at school but it's not the same as learning from other environments. Education is, for example, every time I go to the library I get to choose my own books that interest me and use my imagination while reading. At home I watch the National Geographic channel to learn about animals, many different creatures and their environments. Also I play board games such as chess and Monopoly with friends and family and get to learn about focus, concentration, and making decisions. Finally, education is when I go to parks and museums to learn about history and nature.”
Veronica (who will clearly be running for office someday), informed me that: “Education and schooling are basically the same thing, other than the environments they are in. Education can be given anywhere. But, schooling is the experience of being in an environment where you learn social skills and the importance of friendship, while also learning the books and having the opportunity to become educated. It is up to the kids to grasp the opportunity and to take full control over the education that is offered at the school. To me, being in school is one of the most important things in a child's growth.”
After hours of listening, writing, and asking more and more questions, I arrived at my last interviewee, Gaby. Like the others, I asked Gaby: “What do you think is the difference between education and schooling?” She paused for a moment to reflect on my question, and then replied: “One is a noun and the other is a verb.”
As Gaby sat in stony silence looking back at me, I began to first smile and then outright laugh, as the unexpected simplicity of her answer made impact… I had spent my entire Sunday afternoon debating the difference between a noun and a verb.
The greater lesson in all of this: Don’t overthink it. Personal reflection, professional development, and self-assessment are critical, but getting caught up in the minutia, as I did, takes our focus off the bigger picture. I had been so focused on the literal, that I completely glossed over the underlying question which was to ask myself why I get out of bed every morning. To ask myself why I do this, what my motivation is, and examine how I can now take that thing that drives me to the next level for myself, for my employees, and for the students in my schools.
I have been an educator for over 30 years, am a published author, and hold multiple degrees, but on January 10th, 2016, I was definitely not smarter than a 5th grader, and though I may not have received an education that day, thanks to Gaby, I definitely got schooled.