On the train back from Leszno I took some notes about the first in my life workshop with high school students. Since the topic was connected with education I promised to send them My Education Story. I prepared it before the workshop in order to make the narrating of their own stories easier. I publish this text just because I received other question from people around and the best way to answer is with My Education Story…
My first conscious memories are since I was three years old. I remember playing with other kids at the play yard, I remember my grand-grand-mother trying to make me eat more soup and how I touched our cow for first time. Curiosity about everything around was my perpetual motion in life. Later, when I was still spending the endless summers with my grandparents at the village, every night before sleeping, they were teaching me how to count and make basic reckoning, reading poetry for children and writing my name.
I love these moments and try to recall them whenever I feel need for motivation and courage. These evening lessons thought me how learning can be pleasant, useful and requires just a bit of patience and persistence. Things which my official education tried to take from me in every possible way. I don’t know if is the system I should blame, or my kido oversensitiveness back in the first grade… The school appeared to be cruel to a point of crazy creativeness – you think that you experienced everything for the past years but at the some point something new always was happening. All this in terms of class mates, teachers, human relations and educational process.
Nevertheless I prize my various experience and I learned to cherish all the surprises in life – good or bad. The few basic features of my educational process could be summarized as follows: I learned to be tested; I learned to be marked/labeled; I learned to be a number.
The Test. The exam, the test is the very basic on which all the formal education exists nowadays. This is the essential core over which the system builds the steps of the social order hierarchy. First lesson in school – you will be tested, you will be observed and there is no place to hide. I remember my very first oral examination. I was so stressed out, talking infront of the whole class for first time. I had to tell the story for yellow little duck from few images in the primer. Fortunately, at least the teacher allowed me to talk from my place and not go infront of the blackboard (a monstrous tool for suffering that tortured many of us).
Marking/Labeling. I was extremely lucky to be good at school. I told the story about the yellow little duck the best possible way. And I was assured right way – I managed with the task better than the other people from the class. It was matter of luck because at the very moment of examination I am overwhelmed by emotions (fear, stress, happiness about something around, etc.) and there is no way to reflect on particular knowledge or skill that helped me deal with the exam itself. When a kid is labeled good/bad at school – this leads to certain consequences. Numerous amounts of time I received better grade than a person whose knowledge on the topic was better simply because I was me and this me was a good student. I will not even go for the way this affected my social relations. They were good in general. I had friends and some good time. However my social position was not good because I started to refuse taking part in the biggest fun around – being part of the competition. Competition for good grades, for bad grades, for knowing something, for knowing nothing, for the new brand clothes, for winning the game or for loosing it.
Be a number. The strong sense of competition in school would be impossible without reducing the diversity of one human being into a simple number as part of the ‘objective’ system. I don’t remember the day when I became a number and I am still waiting for the day when I will loose it. When you are not responsible for your tasks with your name – the feature that defines you within the culture – but with your number – the feature that defines you within the iron cage, this is the moment when knowledge starts to fade away in the face of simple recognition.
These few lessons I find cruel, sometimes painful but at the same time extremely useful for the way the today’s modern world is functioning. What I am grateful for, is that my parents gave me the absolute freedom of choosing my path in education. When all the other kids were forced to learn math, I was free to go for literature and history, when I decided to go for something opposite – chemistry and ecology, they again supported me. Even the final shift of my interests and opinions – studying sociology in university, was welcomed by them. The choices I made were free, were based on the flow and I feel comfortable with them. I would have the first three lessons in each school anyway. But I was strongly supported and encouraged to go for what I want (or what I think I want) . I am more than thankful to my parents for this. Even though my high school was practically a ghetto school, the diversity of human fates I had chance to feel, I don’t exchange for the finest Latin class or mastering a language. Did I learn chemistry? Just a little bit, the system took my enthusiasm away from this.
Sociology brought my curiosity back and I was feeling again like a child experiencing the world. Reflecting on the social processes, on the education and on my own social roles, motivated me again to approach things and knowledge with true interest. This was the time when I got familiar with the non-formal education as well. The main disadvantage of the school system is this – there is no non-formal education going along with the formal one. In my vision, education should be more about questioning, understanding and critical thinking, than simple repetition. I wish there was someone who can answer my questions like “why is this important” and to understand my deep frustration by the competition around, and also to teach me to value my study opportunities.
Education is learning in broad sense – this is how I treat my experience and continue to create my educational story. I don’t know where it will lead me but I am on the way, armed with patience, genuine interest in things and ready to put my own efforts in it.