15 February 2011

Students Just Don't Understand

Remember that Will Smith...er, I mean, Fresh Prince song, "Parents Just Don't Understand."?

Classic. The funniest thing about that video is that the Prince's parents ended up being right about most things. The youngin's' clothes, after all, were hideous.

The rappers just couldn't fathom that their parents had a strategy, and some sense. It was really Will and Jeff who lacked understanding.

All this has something to do with teaching and the Army. Looking through some old notes I found a reference to "the difference between training and teaching."

The Army loves to talk about training, whereas in schools we talk about teaching. The former implies behaviors, while the latter connotes understanding. And we have come back to our friend, the Fresh Prince.

I'll keep going, though.

Students need to really understand. I would argue that Soldiers need to understand, too. If we were wearing red coats and toting muskets, and victory depended on our ability to stand in ranks under fire long enough to deliver another volley, then I would concede that training alone would suffice.

Today's warfare encompasses so much more than battlefield maneuvers. It is dynamic and chaotic. Besides, there are so many more activities to warfare than what occurs on the battlefield. In fact, leaders often speak of "battlespace," because they know it is so much bigger than the geography of engagement.

The difference between training and teaching, then, comes down to how much the learners really understand about the behaviors they must perform. A dog can be trained, but a Soldier and a student must be able to comprehend the rationale behind actions in order to predict and adapt when stimuli change.

Students, in turn, are expected to understand and use higher order thinking to demonstrate it. Analysis, evaluation, creativity, and application are all required skills in almost any academic pursuit.

The pursuits of Soldiers should be no different. Yes, many situations demand uncompromising discipline and obedience to prescribed methods. But such automaticity is better achieved when it is built upon a foundation of understanding.

Teachers too often make the mistake of assuming they taught something. Unless their learner can see it from many angles and apply higher order thinking to it, nothing was taught.

When Army trainers say that they trained, they are probably right. They need to go to the next step and start teaching.

I think Will Smith would be proud. 

1 comment:

  1. Subordinates place great emphasis on their leaders capabilities. The assumption is that, if you are in the position of power / authority, you should be well versed in that particular subject matter. In reality, this is not always the case. Many leaders obtain a position by default or seniority – wisdom, unfortunately, does not always accompany the latter.