Process vs. product in education

Tonight we attended our weekly Colloquium, a term I’m not sure how to define except as “an educational space where we learn about what it means to be a PhD student.” Since we’re all still scratching our heads trying to figure out how we got picked for the program at CUNY, it’s generally pretty helpful.

We have speakers come to most of our Colloquium meetings, and tonight we were joined by two candidates like ourselves in the Urban Ed program who were fourth-year students, people I guess we call “near-peers” (which sounds like either a kindergarten buddy system or a Hershey’s candy to me…). One of the students was Ana María Correa (http://www.ballethispanico.org/in-the-community/staff), who works at Ballet Hispánico and studies art in education. Like many of our guest speakers, Ana María had great insights about what to expect, what mistakes and challenges she had in doing her doctoral work, what it felt like to be in a program where you didn’t seem to have the know-how or firepower of your peers.

Ana María reminded us, in a word, that John Dewey’s admonition from Democracy and Education (http://www.gutenberg.org/files/852/852-h/852-h.htm), written almost 100 years ago, still holds true for us, as it does for all students: Education is not a product but a process. If we allow “externally imposed aims” to dictate the priorities of education, the process can become “mechanical and slavish” (Dewey, Chapter 8) and we end up simply imbibing formulas to be regurgitated later when called for. Her point was simple: You are only where you can be, in your own space, your own point in the process of learning and building.

Educating in a democracy means challenging schooling status quo; this is true for us as students of education as well. Whether we call it a journey (as Ana María did), a process, or something else, we allow our experience to be our own, one of curiosity and individual drive within our community. I imagine it’s CUNY’s hope that we can then move on as educators to work with our own students in a similarly nurturing and inspiring way. In the greater social context, this is certainly a radical perspective…but then again, Dewey was radical for his time. And we’re still reading him today.

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