What would you say if I told you that US schools no longer educate? Would you just nod politely, assume I’m one of those people and go on your way? Or would you take a moment to listen?
I’ve been a teacher for over a decade and have taught all different subjects to students of all ages. I’ve seen 6th grade classrooms without dictionaries. I’ve heard the warnings of high school program directors not to teach Shakespeare because the students “just aren’t capable of learning” it. I’ve watched as dedicated teachers burn out then just sit around waiting for retirement.
What would you do to change this?
Maya Frost, Sir Ken Robinson and Seth Godin offer us alternatives. These are not new ideas. In fact, they’ve been percolating for years. None will tell you what to do or how to do it. Instead, these three offer ideas, possibilities and options that allow you to make your own decisions.
Maya Frost’s 2009 book titled The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition and Get a Truly International Education describes the nature of the adolescent mind, how in our teen years our brains open to growth potential that is left largely ignored by the current education system in the United States. The following paragraph resonates strongly.
Our kid’s brains are ravenous for content that will lend itself to analysis, and yet we’re sticking them into a world that is so limited they are reduced to examining hairstyles and hook-ups instead of more challenging fare. Instead of analyzing culture, politics or world affairs on a daily basis, they’re prognosticating about prom dates. They zero in on the fit of their jeans rather than on the fit of a cultural identity within a larger population,and they devote hours to enhancing the clarity of their skin instead of the clarity of their thinking. They are digging into a plate of pettiness because that is precisely what we’ve served them. They deserve — and are ready for — so much more.
It struck me when I read this that the image of the typical obnoxious teen who lives only to text her friends and meet at the mall is something we take for granted. We assume it is the case, because that is what we see around us. In fact, it is entirely possible we amplify that image because we expect it, but it is not a given. We must give each student the benefit of the doubt so he or she can grow without pre-drawn boundaries.
Now, listen to Sir Ken Robinson as he calls for the complete revolution of our international education system, one that is based on a “fast food module.” By that, he refers to the standardization and structuring of most systems of education that overlook the needs of the individual. It starts with the pressure we feel as parents to make sure our children place well into pre-school and goes from there.
While this system has served us well in many aspects, we must continue to evaluate and re-evaluate. We must remove what no longer works.
Standards testing, for example, has become an end goal instead of a measurement. Classrooms become factories designed to pass this one test, and that is how we know something has been lost. We teach structure. We teach obedience. “Sit in these rows. Go out to recess now.” We tell our classrooms what to learn, when to learn and how to learn it. Is this truly what we want for ourselves or the next generations?
Seth Godin, a particular favorite of mine, addresses the structure in our classrooms in his October 2012 TEDxYouth talk.
It’s on all of us. Not just parents or educator or students, but every one of us, working together to identify that which no longer works. We have choices. It is only a matter of taking them.