How A Lazy Disinterested Prince Came To Relish Learning, Treasure Understanding, Delight in Insight

I like the word, “relish.” I finally looked it up.

I see in my worn out Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, “relish” means 1: characteristic flavor; esp : pleasing, or zestful flavor. 2 : a quantity just sufficient to flavor or characterize: TRACE. 3 a: enjoyment of or delight in something that satisfies one’s tastes, inclinations, or desires b: a strong liking : INCLINATION 4 something adding a zestful flavor; esp : a condiment (as of pickles or green tomatoes) eaten with other food to add flavor b: APPETIZER, HORS D’OEUVRE

To delight in something that satisfies one’s tastes, inclinations, or desires is to relish that something. To delight. To relish. “Where a man’s treasure is, there will his heart be also.” We are motivated to seek and to experience that which we relish, that which delights us.

Motivation is key. And, we are all motivated. We might think that students who are bored and disengaged have a motivation problem, but the truth is, every student is highly motivated, maybe not motivated to align himself or herself with a teacher’s or school’s agenda, but, nevertheless, highly motivated.

I’ve been thinking of this thought experiment I proposed several years ago: “Suppose you live in a time of kings and your king has a 13 year old child and the king assigns you the responsibility for the 13 year old’s total education.”

I’m wondering if developing this premise into a work of fiction might be a good way to develop some ideas about education reform, sort of like Horace’s School by Ted Sizer. It might be fun to attempt to write a work of fiction to reveal and stimulate thought about how various educational theories work in practice. The blurb on the dust cover for this potential book might be something like: How it was that a lazy and disinterested prince came to relish learning, to treasure understanding, and to delight in gaining insight.

The point is, if a lazy prince could make such a turnaround, maybe your disinterested 13 year old, under the right conditions, might do the same. Someone might say, sure, if I had the resources, the time, the one-on-one opportunity, I think I could help most any 13 year old change their motivation.

My fictional story would attempt to show the king also thought it might be easy and would show how some approaches, regardless of limitless resources, failed flat. Schools and educational programs even today, regardless of resources, are failing flat. Money by itself is not the answer. Good theory, solid practice, and, most of all, organizational and system structure are more important than money. All education, ultimately, is self education, so inspiring intrinsic motivation is the key. A lot of kings might initially reject this view. My fictional story would attempt to explain the principles of how intrinsic motivation can be inspired and nourished, and why extrinsic motivation, rewards and punishments, fails.

Of key importance in the story would be an unfolding of what the purpose of education should be. The story would show how, ultimately, a lot of educational purposes that the king initially defined would need to be rethought. A prince does not become ready to become king by knowing how to ride a horse, how to conduct diplomacy, how to do algebra. A prince is not ready to become a king because he knows a lot of stuff.  Knowing things is a small part.  To become ready for responsibility a person must grow into who he is, must become a whole person, of excellent character, a person who relishes wisdom, justice; a person who delights in understanding and learning; a person who thinks for himself or herself. (This is a tall order and it is difficult or impossible for a teacher to help his or her student grow into such a person unless the teacher is a model of such a person himself or herself.)

The point is, the education appropriate for the child of a king, in a democracy, is the education that is appropriate for every child. I started to think about my old thought experiment when I read that Richard Dreyfuss, the actor who played Dick Cheney in Oliver Stone’s “W,”  is becoming an outspoken advocate for improving civic education in America. Dreyfuss points out that in a democracy, the people are sovereign. “If the people are sovereign,” he says, “they are the monarch. Who tutors the monarch? Who trains and teaches the people to be sovereign?” Dreyfuss’ point is that we rely on public education to tutor and prepare future citizens, the people who will be sovereign, and, right now, public education is doing a lousy job.

In my book, the aim of education is the development of the individual, the actualization of the person, the bringing out of what is hidden within the person, the fulfillment of potential. The role of the teacher is to somehow catalyze the process, sometimes this is simply by being a good example.  Yeats said teaching is the “lighting of a fire, not the filling of a pail.”  Teaching is an art. Our present system needs radical transformation, because the present system hinders and prevents authentic teaching.  The idea of my fictional story is to boil down education into its simplest configuration — one teacher, one student, one parent — and show what authentic education looks like.

Clarity of goals and purpose is the place to start.  John Dewey famously said that the education that the wisest parents want for their child, should be the education provided to every child. There is a big difference between education and schooling. We tend to equate the two, but a wise king knows better. A wise parent wants his or her child to be educated — not simply schooled. What is needed is a big discussion about what education means and what purpose public education must seek to fulfill. Seeing a school child, regardless of their social standing, as a monarch, as a future king in need of tutoring, in need of an education he or she will relish, seems a valuable way of framing the discussion.

This entry was posted in M Bock, Opinion. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to How A Lazy Disinterested Prince Came To Relish Learning, Treasure Understanding, Delight in Insight

  1. Eric says:

    … in a democracy, the people are sovereign. … Who trains and teaches the people to be sovereign?

    “[When] the Democrats … [get] involved in school board elections, … considerations that have nothing to do with competence, intelligence or qualifications get considered. The party just can’t help itself. It rewards people with its endorsement for showing up at meetings, for passing out literature and for helping other candidates. Sadly, voters think the party actually vets people on their abilities. …”

    Sounds like DPS is afflicted by Democrats Against Democracy. How about this for a party slogan: “Our constituents are too poorly educated to cast an informed ballot–and we’re OK with that!”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *