I have sat and pondered this question for many years. I grew up thinking the same way most of you probably did, that success in education is defined by your grades. It has taken me many years, many classes, and a lot of research to say, “Grades do NOT define one’s success in education.” In fact, one of my earlier blogs spoke to the meaning of grades and how they mean very little unless students understand why they were given the grade they received. Grades on a report card and grades in the gradebook will never determine one’s success in education. Really, it’s what’s behind those grades that will determine a student’s success. But let me pause here and explain what I mean when I say “education.”
John Dewey once said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” We say that students go to school to “get” an education, but what does that really mean? What does “get an education” mean? I go to the store to GET groceries. I go to a restaurant to GET food. I go outside to GET fresh air. When I “get” something, it’s usually something attainable, something I can hold, or something I can use. So what does it mean to go to school to GET an education?
If you Google the definition of education this is what you will get: “The process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university,” or, “an enlightening experience.” Within the definition itself, education is considered a process of receiving or giving instruction, or an experience. So does that mean education is nothing more than being talked to? So we are sending our students to school to “get” talked to.?. Or, are we sending our students to school to “get” an enlightening experience? Raise your hand if you remember sitting in class and having an enlightening experience from being talked to. I would bet that very few of you are raising your hands right now. So what exactly are students “getting” at school?
I refer back to the quote from John Dewey, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Students go to school to learn skills. Not just any skills; skills that will help them be successful in life. The skills that are learned in school vary in complexity, relevance, and purpose. There are the basic academic skills that are needed to be successful in life. These skills would include the ability to read, write, and do basic arithmetic. However, these skills are learned through a process that involves being talked to and repetition of work. But there is a problem. Many students struggle with some, or all, of these skills. Does this mean these students are not “getting” an education? Or are these students not successful in education? The simplest answer I propose is yes and no.
Success is defined as, “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” What then is the accomplishment, aim, or purpose of education? To graduate? To get good grades? To pass classes? Sadly, I feel most of our students, and maybe even you, would say yes. Sure, graduation is an accomplishment, but you can graduate with pretty poor grades, so does that mean you are successful? Success is something that is earned, but more importantly, it is something earned with a purpose. If the purpose of education is to graduate, then education stops at the end of high school; unless you go to college, then it might end in two, four, eight, or however many years it takes you to graduate. But how does that make someone successful? Again, it is because success is what lies behind the accomplishments, which is why education is life itself.
Success in education is when students learn the skills needed to help them thrive in whatever environment they are in. There is such a thing as academic success, but that success happened because students were willing to work hard, persevere, take responsibility, and push through the hard times. Without these characteristics, students might never know what success looks like or feels like. Success in education is when students have taken what they have learned and have applied it to their lives. Education is not about what you know; it’s about what you do with what you know. Success in education is seeing students struggle, fail, and still push through with a heart of determination. After all, education is not preparation for life; education is life itself, and life takes hard work, perseverance, responsibility, and grit.