In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros

The Piling On of Students

Current educational theory holds that students achieve their best when under intense academic pressure. And there's no better way to increase that pressure than by increasing the load they carry, with the Latin struere, "to pile things." Taking their cue both from the roots of their profession (adding the prefix, in) and from official directives — instructors tend to "pile things," "on," their students — one after another (believing that to be their mandate).

This piling on is not meant to be indiscriminate. Hopes are that by joining their efforts with the prefix con, "with," that it will be done with a guiding principle in mind, rendering the entire process constructive — culminating in structured learning.

Critics, however, consider the entire approach "destructive," ("a pile away from") and obstructive ("a pile in the way of") real learning, if you construe what I mean. As an educated person, you should be able to put those pieces together properly.

If all of schooling is ultimately reduced to nothing more than a pile, how can we hope to instill in students a proper attitude towards learning? Could "pouring it on," be the way to go? Noted educator Paolo Freire called it "jug to mug education," whereby the teacher pours from his jug to the student's mug. Come examination time, the student returns the favor.

Instill originates with the Latin stilla, "a drop," giving us the verb stillare "to drop" and the derivative compound instillare, "to pour in drop by drop." The process as described is anything but a "pouring on."

Could that possibly be the best way to approach teaching — drop by drop, gradually imparting qualities of heart and mind to students? Rather than inundating them with data or piling it on, could that be the truly instructive way to go?