Inez Ponce de Leon - Artist, Writer, Scholar, Educator

Inez's Diary: A Love of Learning, Minus the Tons of Information

Brace yourselves. The K-12 system is coming, and everyone is throwing stones.

I grew up in the old system of education, where I entered school at age 6, took the chance to jump a grade at 12, entered high school at 13, left at age 16, and then graduated college at 20. I never felt as though I lacked skills in math, science, or English. On the contrary, I felt that i needed more classes on real world skills: investments, navigating the benefits and salary packages of the workplace, buying insurance, dealing with office politics... There were skills that no classroom could give me. School, therefore, had to spit me out.

What I did have in great stock, however, was the thirst for knowledge. I wanted to read more books, run out into the world to see my books come to life, test the purported truths that I had merely been witness to in the written word. I was not fully aware of how ignorant I was, how naive in the ways of the world, how laughably simple my manner of thinking. But I had been equipped with the need to find out more when I found my fountain of knowledge running dry. I might not have had all the "facts", but I did have a desire to read more when my own stock of facts became outdated.

It is a desire that stays with me to this day. Wrapped up in it is the need to corroborate facts by reading more than one source of information, and study all sides of an issue. The accessibility of information online has served to deepen this desire for knowledge; the unreliability of most information online has encouraged me to keep on learning, to keep on reading, to see the big picture without losing sight of the details.

This love for learning is not something that was instilled by more hours in the classroom, spent parroting facts from a book. It was not something born from an extra two years of school. It was not forced into me by endless quizzes and exams. It was not the product of information overload in the guise of "more knowledge."

There is something that is taught to all dancers who wish to perform: when you get out on that stage, build your story slowly. Don't just pour out your heart and soul within the first few seconds. Don't let everything out within your first few breaths. Build your tale, as though you were telling it to a band of waiting, wide-eyed children. Play with textures, highlight the beats or the melody, unravel the layers of your soul. Then gradually show off your skills. Bring everything to a rousing crescendo of technique and stage presence if you must. End with your heart and soul laid bare, but always leave your audience wanting more.

This, in a manner of speaking, was what my years of pre-college education were like. I was not bombarded with lessons and information. I was given a taste of the world, and a craving to explore. My college years were no different: I wasn't given the course load from hell, but I had professors who made good use of their time. True, there were many exceptions, and I had to suffer through professors who read out loud from the textbook (Philosophy 1), gave me tons of readings but never discussed them and instead graded them through multiple choice exams (STS), or stuffed me with exercises on the board but could not answer why each step led logically to the next (Statistics 101). But for every unsatisfactory professor, there was a good one who showed so much excitement and passion, and who held back enough to allow me freedom to read and learn more on my own.

These past few days have been spent listening to debates on the merits of the new K-12 system and the attendant changes that must be made at the tertiary level. Because of the extra two years of school, the Powers that Be say, we need to remove subjects from the college curriculum and add new ones in their stead. As you might imagine, this exhortation for a new curriculum has made conquerors out of scholars: everyone now wants a bigger piece of the college intellectual pie, arguing that having more of an X topic will make students more Y. Fill in the blanks with your advocacy of choice: more science will make students more logical and knowledgeable, or more philosophy will make students more ethical, or more math will make students better skilled at abstract thinking...

All of this smacks of the assumption that simply feeding students more information will turn them into masters immediately, discounting the influences of family, friends, personal interests, society, culture, money.... We're throwing pockets of knowledge at a complex problem, but will we end up with scholars, or students so burned out by the information overload that they simply disengage?

Is there no way to build the story slowly, to provide students with just the right amount of knowledge so that they are equipped but not boastful of what little they know? Is there no way to instill a love of knowledge, a desire to think things through first - and without going the route of "more knowledge makes better students"?

I grew up loving knowledge not because it was forced upon me, but because I was forced to think, reason, debate, and find out more. The pursuit of knowledge is truly like a hunt for buried treasure, and it tingles with all the attendant excitement that comes with knowing that there is so much out there to be read, to be known, to be explored. The next generation should not be given a GPS and a doorstopper guidebook. The next generation might first need to know how to properly read a map.