The Process is the Product

February 15, 2018

"Your presentation is about your process. Your process is not about your presentation."

 

This is the advice I give to my twelfth grade mentoring group when we begin the "Graduate at Graduation" program, some form of which exists at most Jesuit high schools. It's a months-long reflective experience focused on where they've been, where they are, and where they're going. It culminates with each student offering a presentation to his peers and teachers, sharing some of these understandings.

 

Most begin thinking, right from the outset, about their presentation. I urge them to put the brakes on that, and rather to engage fully in the process as it unfolds. The presentation can then be about the process, without the experience being unduly driven by a focus on what they'll say to their peers. 

 

It's kind of like encouraging students to wait until they're finished with an essay before giving it a title. The title, then, becomes truly reflective of the paper's contents. Obviously, the title is important, but it's far less important than the content of the essay. For the seniors, the presentation is important--but it's far less important than the reflective process. 

 

Much of education is like this. What initially seems like the principal focus turns out to be only accessory to what, in the end, matters more. 

 

I spoke to a senior just a little while ago. He's seriously stressing over the fact that he's procrastinated so badly on a big research project. This failure to plan ahead and adhere to deadlines has made a definite impression on him. Arguably, the most valuable aspect of the research assignment for this guy will not be the research itself; rather, in the end, it will be the lived experience of having procrastinated and living with the consequences. 

 

The moral and ethical implications of what happens in Macbeth will hopefully resonate long after we read and discuss the play with tenth graders. Yes. But does knowing who said what to whom in Act III matter? Yes and no. Arguably, this is content knowledge that will soon fade. On the other hand, the processes used to accrue that content knowledge are absolutely vital. To accomplish this learning, the students will learn new ways to learn. They might even create a new way to learn, for themselves. Their tenth grade brains, from what neuroscience has told us, will literally create new neural patterns to achieve this. And, of course, there's a work ethic in development there, too. No small thing. 

 

The longer I'm a teacher, the more I strongly believe that the most important aspects of education take place across and amidst the course material, in a sort of "meta-curriculum" that garners experiential capital. It's not that the content doesn't matter. Likely some content matters more than other content, but of course knowing stuff does matter. It's just very often the means to a more important and lasting end. 

 

Educators--admin and teachers alike--should keep this in mind when we're designing our curricula, policies, and programs. Because in the midst of various products: test scores, college admissions, mastery of content, et cetera, the most important product we offer is the process itself.

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