Why is Unlearning Harder than Learning?

When I think of the word innovator, I think of inventor. Maybe it’s just because they sound similar, but I associate them both with creating something new. By definition, to innovate means “to introduce something new; make changes in anything established.” This word isn’t one I would normally use to describe myself. However, I think it’s what we’ve been preparing to do in the classroom this entire semester. In education, I think innovation is question common practices and always putting the needs of students first.

One key component to being innovative is unlearning unbeneficial methods. Something I have unlearned this semester is that learning isn’t just a classroom activity. Being a learner isn’t being a high school or college student. Being a learner is a way of life. The best thing about this is that anyone can be a learner, and all children naturally are. It is our job as teachers not to crush this natural curiosity but nurture it. I think this revelation will lead me to being a more innovative teacher. George Couras’s innovative mindset included, “I believe that my abilities, intelligence, and talents can be developed, leading to the creation of new and better ideas.” The best teachers are also lifelong learners.

Fair warning, I’m about to climb up on my soapbox. I’m just saying, you were warned. Something I and most people still need to unlearn is grades do not equal learning. As I was reading “My Generation Essay: Redefining education” today, I was appalled at how grades can truly limit a person’s education. Students should be more focused on their learning than the letter they have to show for it. As I was walking back to my room from the library, with a million thoughts about the topic bouncing around in my head, I checked my grades on my phone. In one of my classes that I previously had an A in, I received a low B on a big writing assignment, and my grade was brought down to a B. I immediately started panicking. I’m in eighteen credits this semester and am expecting one or two (at the most) B’s which isn’t something I’m happy about but something I’ve come to terms with. If I don’t get my grade up in that class, I could possibly get three. I felt overwhelming anger and disappointment. Then, about a half an hour later, I realized that this breakdown was completely going against my previous thoughts.

When I was in high school, my class had a very tight race for valedictorian and salutatorian. Not only was it important for me to get straight A’s, but A+’s. I remember one of my classmates in tears because she was only getting A-‘s and therefor wouldn’t have a chance at valedictorian. I graduated with seventeen competitive people, and grades were another form of competition for us. At the time, I don’t remember thinking much of this, but now it saddens me. When students are only worried about their letter grade, they aren’t concerned about what they are learning, and it isn’t their fault. We have all been trained to think the only way to have a successful life is to follow the rules and get “good” grades. Most of the time, we do the least amount of work we can to get what we consider “good” grades. When I think of my future students, I don’t want their focus to be on what letter of the alphabet I designate to represent their intelligence. I want them to develop or foster a passion for reading or be excited to get home from school so they can start working on a piece of creative writing for my class. If all we are teaching students is to be concerned about a grade, are we really teaching them anything at all?

What I need to unlearn (as a student) is that grades aren’t the most important part of my education and remember that learning is what’s most important. It seems so obvious to me now, but so many people have forgotten that or haven’t even realized it in the first place.