Why Education Fails Students

“Jacket on, jacket off.” — Mr. Han (Karate Kid)

I have never liked maths. Most sane people don’t like maths. You probably don’t like it either.

When I was in high school, I remember the first maths class I had to endure. I received a small, blue book, filled with stories of people making the oddest purchases. One story stands out: Jeff bought 500 watermelons, and I had to figure out - armed with the power of geometry - how these would fit in a shopping cart. I never wound up figuring out if they would fit, nor did I ever find out how to pass a maths test successfully.

I never understood maths, or why I would want to buy that amount of watermelons. Going through homework, and even tests, made me feel like a hamster running on a wheel. It was work designed for the sole purpose of putting a student to work. It was ‘busy work’.

Nobody likes busy work, especially students. Do you know what they do like: movies. Everyone likes movies. One of my favorite movies as a child was the ‘Karate Kid’, with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith (yes, I am young). One of its iconic scenes features Mr. Han giving Dre a lesson in Karate, but he does so in an odd way.

He tells the kid to hang his coat and take it off the hanger, and again, and then again. He doesn't let the kid stop, to the frustration of his student.

Then, when Dre finally reaches his breaking point, the teacher decides to perform actual karate with the student. Dre then has learned some of the defensive reflexes of karate. To the surprise of Dre, the teacher says something like “karate is in everything, even hanging your coat”.

Mr. Han, then and there, achieved what 99.9% of teachers fail to achieve: showing the purpose and application of what they are doing. In my experience, most teachers show you ‘hang the coat’ and then don’t show you what is beyond the hanger.

Why? Well, ask any teacher and you’ll most likely get an answer like: “that’s not what education is for, it's to give you basic skills and you apply them later in life on your own”.

A reasonable answer.

Unfortunately, this is also where education fails. Education fails, when the teacher is nothing more than a more advanced audiobook, focussing on technique rather than practice.

You should, independently, push yourself to improve and to apply what you learned throughout your life. The teacher's job is to show you ‘how’ not ‘when’ or ‘where’.

I would like to add, that a teacher’s job should be more than regurgitating the theory in a book. A teacher, in my opinion, should show you the bigger picture. Just like Mr. Han. A teacher should also teach you the ‘what’, not assume that this is self-evident from the ‘how’.

And, of course, if you are really lucky they’ll inspire you to find a ‘why’.

That’s why teachers should be more like Mr. Han.

Mr. Han gets things done.

Student of Law and Linguistics. Fun fact: nobody reads a bio for more than 5 seconds