Passing, Practicing, Progressing

As educators, we have our students’ future in mind. I am resisting the urge to write about the misguided strategy of adults looking to their past to predict students’ future. I am writing instead about the timelines wise educators use when they are looking towards students’ futures. We really should be concerned with three futures. When we are shortsighted and see only one (which is common) we both leave students unprepared for these other futures, and that it unfortunate as the others are more important for them and for the society that depends on engaged and intelligent individuals.

The first future to consider is passing. Schools are places from which we graduate. Once we have demonstrated we know what we went there to learn (this can be more contentious than it might seem), we have “passed” and are ostensibly qualified to do something that we could not previously.

Passing is usually defined by some performances; tests and writing being the most familiar, but programming spreadsheets, creating art, making speeches, and many others are common. In some schools, departments are judged to be passing or failing passed on their students’ performance on licensing exams. If you don’t’ believe me, hang out with nursing faculty on the days when they learn their students’ scores on their licensing exams.

Passing is the goal with the briefest timeline of the three. We want our students to pass at multiple points during the time we spend with them, then we want them to progress to other courses, and pass those like they did ours. In most cases, we know what passing looks like and we know how to get our students to pass… as long as they follow our advice.

The second future is practicing; they use the content we taught and the critical thinking and creative habits they refined to pass into the practice of their lives. We think immediately of their economic lived, but we know being educated means much more than having a good job. We do want our students to be successful in whatever terms they define through the practice we taught them.

If is more difficult for educators to predict or prepare students for this success. We are much less sure of the nature of the problems they will encounter than we are our classroom and those of our colleagues than we are the circumstance, problems, and potential and acceptable solutions they will encounter when they practice.

The third future of progressing. Actually, learning is a better future, but I want to alliterate with passing and practicing. We want our students to “see further by standing on the shoulder of giants.” For this to be realized, we must expect students to be their own educational agents.

They must perceive our courses as important and relevant; in other words worth their attention and cognition. We must trust them to make sense of what we are teaching and guide them to practice and progress as they are passing.

It seems our current educational institutions seek to get students to passing. That may be admirable and it may align with the goal of standardizing education, but I am less convinced that we are thinking on the correct timelines if we care about our students than ever.