14 Sep Educational Reform: A Starting Point (Perhaps)
We’ve heard the studies and statistics. Today’s students will likely change jobs X times in their adult lives. Creativity and critical thinking are prized by employers but not found in new hires. The world’s knowledge is doubling every X days/weeks/months. The current school structure is better suited for the factory age than the technological age. And on and on and on.
And we’ve heard the seemingly endless skirmishes about standardized test scores, government directives, and figurative races to figurative places. At a time when everything points to the need to change, we’re preoccupied with launching verbal grenades at those who dare to disagree with us. Two (or more) sides fighting over what is and what should be rather than working toward a model of optimal effectiveness. Some days it seems that neither side cares about the real issues as long as they win the current battle.
Oh, I know. All sides think they are fighting for the best educational future. All claim to hold the moral high ground and to have “the children’s best interests at heart.” Watch the interaction, especially online, and you’ll see people digging in rather than honestly dialoguing. In the online world, even respect is a victim of the combat. Questions are not honest; they are a means of restating one’s position and making the ask-er appear wiser than the ask-ee. The answers do not matter; they won’t even be heard.
At the risk being drafted into the fray, allow me to suggest a quartet of ideas worth considering:
- What and how you learned in school is not the best guide for what and how today’s students should learn. I got through college on a Commodore 64. (If you are much younger than I, you may need to be informed that this was a computer.) The closest thing to a computer in my high school was an electric typewriter in the office. We all know that technology has changed how we access and use information. Why, then, would we think that textbooks and multiple choice tests are the best instruments for today’s teachers and students?
- Technology alone is not the answer. Oh, I can hear the protests now. Many educators, who themselves live tech-infused lives, seem to believe that if we just put more things with cords and batteries into the classroom, learning magic will happen. Brace yourself: it won’t. It does not matter if the technology is brought in by the school or by the students; a teacher without the know-how to use it effectively creates a classroom that can be tech-rich but learning poor. No tool, whether it’s chalk and slate or the latest iGadget, promotes learning merely by its availability. Is it possible to learn with technology? Yes. Is it still possible to learn without technology? Yes. (I know, this is unthinkable to some of us. Note that I did not say students should be learning without technology.)
- There are some things all students should learn. I find it interesting that many educators seem to think that simply putting the students in charge will cure all of education’s ills. Some things are still most efficiently and effectively learned in a systemized way. For example, reading is a meta-skill built on a plethora of individual skills. “Discovery” of these skills does not work. (In the 1980’s this approach was known as “whole language,” and in its pure form was undeniably a failure for many students.) I am not defending the way reading is often taught. Scripted lessons and idiotic reading selections are an insult to both teacher and student. The point here is that flipping, unlearning, discovering, or whatever you want to call more student-chosen learning, will not work for everything at every grade level.
- Some of what students should learn is how to be self-directed learners. If all teaching and learning is systemized, students will not acquire the skill of self-directed learning, a skill that is proving to be more and more critical for today’s workers. Learning how to learn requires opportunities for self-teaching—times when the classroom teacher assumes more of a coaching than a fount-of-knowledge role. Students need to gain proficiency in how to obtain, organize, understand and communicate new learning. And they need to know how to do this using today’s tools.
Much more could be included here. I haven’t touched critical thinking, creativity, and wisdom—all of which I believe have important implications for us educators. Perhaps, though, these principles can provide a basis for a truce. With our weapons set aside, maybe we could actually communicate, strategize, and take action on reforms that will truly equip our students for success and influence. The longer we wage the current war, the more students we risk losing to an education system that lacks relevance for today’s, let alone tomorrow’s, world.
I’d rather help equip tomorrow’s leaders than don the uniform of any side in the current war. So, let’s communicate. That means listening, really listening, as well as sharing our own perspectives. Let’s ask honest questions and listen to honest answers. Let’s be willing to consider alternative perspectives and accept insights from each other. Let’s avoid the “them-us” mentality, and think much more about “we.”
Perhaps together we can find a way past the morass of platitudes and politics to changes that provide our communities with learning worth pursuing.
- “Rock ’em Sock ’em” http://www.flickr.com/photos/whiskeytango/1697408176/
- “Commodore 64” http://www.flickr.com/photos/19451080@N00/2038871612