Education by Implication

By Caroline Andrews

We mostly think of teaching as what a book or teacher tells pupils, and that's true as far as it goes. But a great deal is told to pupils through what books and teachers don't say.

As a private tutor, I come across a wide range of educational content every single day. Tutoring kids ranging from third grade through college freshmen inevitably means I see a lot of different lessons, worksheets, and teaching methods. Yet, in my five years of working as a tutor, I have never been so shocked as I was last Wednesday.

While tutoring a student in AP Human Geography, we were working through problems on the AP Classroom platform. This is a platform provided by College Board, the organization which produces Advanced Placement classes. This particular question shows a table featuring birth and death rate data from France, Mexico, India, Egypt, and Nigeria. The accompanying question states, “The data in the table can be used to describe a high level of female empowerment in which of the following countries?” The correct answer to this question is France. The only discernible reason? France has the lowest birth rate of all the countries listed in the table. This was not a multi-part question. There were no previous questions or tables describing any other women’s rights in France. All that was given to make a judgment about “women’s empowerment” was the birth and death rates of the nation.

This illustrates the role and power of education by implication. The question does not outright say “a high fertility rate means less women are empowered.” But, the logical conclusion of the question is just that. This devalues motherhood, and implies that being a mother and bringing new life into the world is not in and of itself a very empowering thing.

SIR HUMPHREY APPLEBY: How are things at the Campaign for the Freedom of Information, by the way?
SIR ARNOLD ROBINSON: I'm sorry, I can't talk about that.

Implication plays an important role in learning and education, and it’s something we ignore to our detriment. For example, when I tutor students in math I make sure to tell them to write down every step they’re doing, so they can look back and understand the process. When I model this behavior, they do the same. But, if I get lazy and start skipping steps, they follow suit. It doesn’t matter if I told them writing the steps matters. My actions implied otherwise, and they picked up on it.

Every aspect of a child’s educational experience implies something. The quality of work that a school deems to be acceptable implies something. If students are allowed to turn in crumpled up, ripped pieces of paper with poor penmanship, the school is implying something about the importance of doing good, quality work. When school libraries are stuffed to the brim with the latest fads of literature, the school is implying that the old, classical literature does not matter. If students are returned to class with a bag of chips or piece of candy after being sent to the office for discipline, the school implies their unacceptable behavior is to be rewarded.

What we imply matters. In testing and in other aspects of education, implication is a powerful force in the proper education of students. When tests imply having children goes against women’s empowerment, students learn a lesson whether they realize it or not. The content teachers explicitly communicate is important, but so are the lessons which are implicitly communicated. The tests we give students, the quality of work we accept, the books we suggest, and the behaviors we allow all need to teach students the correct lessons.


Caroline Andrews hails from Cumming, GA. She is currently studying at the Master’s University, pursuing a degree in Christian Ministries. Her interests include theology, history, and current events.

If you’d like to see more from the Journal, try our recently-concluded series on the great ideas, from change to government to knowledge to sameness & other-ness. And be sure to tune in to Anchored, the official podcast of the Classic Learning Test.

Published on 8th November, 2023. Page image of a Chinese porcelain statuette believed to be a “Maria Kannon,” an image of the Virgin Mary designed to resemble a Buddhist boddhisattva and meant for use among the kakure kirishitan (“hidden Christians”) of Japan, during the criminalization of the Edo period (1603-1873); this piece is currently part of the Nantoyōsō Collection in Japan.

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