A Logical Conclusion

I’ve cared about children for as long as I can remember. As the youngest of three girls, I always hoped for a little brother or sister. When that didn’t happen, my dog, my baby dolls and younger cousins filled the void. As a teen, I spent the majority of my free time babysitting for my older sisters and neighbors.

We often visited parks, zoos and historical venues but spent most of our time playing outdoor games such as hide and go seek, any kind of ball, or hopscotch. When indoors, we read, did art projects, danced or created scripts for plays.  All of these ideas came from them, not me.

I lit up every time I saw them discover something new, ask cool questions, or make inferences based on their observations. It was as though I was learning all over again only with them. I have no idea why this excited me as much as it did, but it made sense to consider teaching as a profession. This was a logical conclusion.

A teacher salary never entered the equation in my decision making. No doubt a career in math, science, medicine or law would provide ample earnings, security and a certain amount of respect and prestige. Teaching didn’t afford the same. It didn’t matter. I would be doing what I loved and helping children along the way. So it began.

I was off to a late start after having four children, when I finally earned the title “teacher” in 1984. I was teacher to my own four children and of course my nieces and nephews, preschool teacher at the local YWCA and Sunday School teacher at my church. However, this certificated title opened doors to private and public schools both in the city and suburbs of my hometown.

It eventually took me to an adjacent state where segregation had been the norm just ten years earlier. It exposed me to the haves and have nots in public schooling. I learned the inequities of zip codes and the lack of choices for the have nots. These experiences, along with meaningful interactions with children and their families led me to become a Comer facilitator with the Comer School Development Program created by Dr. James Comer, Child Psychiatrist at Yale Child Study Center.  Dr. James P. Comer

My public school administrative career took me out of my own classroom and led me to school, district, and county positions along with another move to a new state. Throughout this three-state journey, I observed both caring and dismissive teachers, facilitative teaching and managerial teaching, competent administrators and inept ones.

On a more granular level, I saw young children held back a grade or “fail” because they did not meet the grade level standards in the given time frame. I followed the labeled “at- risk” children as they were identified and mortified with interventions. I visited classrooms and schools that bribed students with rewards for behavior and punished them with public ridicule, lack of recess time, lack of time with peers and the stigma of sitting in the school office for all to see.

“What rewards and punishments do is induce compliance, and this they do very well indeed. If your objective is to get people to obey an order, to show up on time and do what they’re told, then bribing or threatening them may be sensible strategies. But if your objective is to get long-term quality in the workplace, to help students become careful thinkers and self-directed learners, or to support children in developing good values, then rewards, like punishments, are absolutely useless. In fact, as we are beginning to see, they are worse than useless—they are actually counterproductive.”
― Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes

I participated in and led federal, state and local educational mandates commissioned by the various officials who held the important purse strings. I reluctantly followed the rules while often questioning the purpose and value of such mandates.

Over the years, when I questioned why we were doing this or that, when I colored outside the given lines, or when I made decisions that veered from the norm, I risked my credibility and longevity as a public school educator. At a distinct moment in time, I didn’t care anymore. Suddenly a multitude of epiphany moments led to a logical conclusion and cemented my decision to retire. Remembering why I first decided to enter the teaching profession and my learning along the way, made it an easy decision.

My decision to retire had nothing specifically to do with the school district where I worked. In fact, it was one of the best. I do not fault anyone who worked there or anyone who works in any school in this country. For the most part, they are hardworking, caring people who are just hardwired to do school in a particular way. My decision had more to do with the children. I could no longer justify the system’s unyielding, relentless effort to make children conform to its desired image of a good, well-behaved student.

Simply put, the joy of learning, the freedom to play and grow at ones’ own pace, the lack of time and attention to creativity and imagination, and the emphasis on standardization and scores sealed my decision. I crossed over to the retirement world and discovered that there is quite a bit of learning that happens outside of conventional schooling. A pioneer in the field is Dr. Peter Gray.  Worth a read. Dr. Peter Gray

It’s been four years now since my retirement from public education. I’ve made an interesting discovery. Many of the thought provoking ideas and research that I see now match most of my epiphany moments from years ago. It’s as if the writers are saying, “here’s something to think about educators, here’s a way we might make learning more authentic and meaningful.” While I find these discoveries note worthy, my intuition tells me that four years from now, I’ll be reading the same ideas, while observing no structural or substantive change in our schools. Parents who choose to home school, quote this as one of their reasons for leaving.

For those who support public schooling and want to send their children, I hope you live in a great zip code. I hope you find caring people in those schools. I hope your child has great teachers. I hope your child has smooth sailing along the way and learns to their satisfaction. I hope that they have choices.

My deeply held belief is that student and parent choice is the key to educational liberty and justice for all. It will unlock every child’s potential for learning and that is the important outcome.

Please check out this new book by Kerry McDonald.

Kerrys book_

Order Kerry McDonald’s new book here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look Kids…Big Ben!

In the cinematography world, its called a circular pan where the camera rotates 360 degrees around a fixed axis. What you see the first time around, is seared in your memory after multiple trips. As the speed increases, the scenery becomes a dizzying and repetitive blur.

The movie scene in Les Miserable comes to mind when Russell Crowe, as Javert, stands perched on a rooftop overlooking Paris at night. The panoramic view behind him becomes a frenzied and fast paced outward panning. I remember turning my eyes away momentarily as my mind struggled to adjust.

Does anyone else have this problem?

A comical scene in European Family Vacation serves as another type of example. Trapped in a London round-about, the Griswold family discovers a few important landmarks over and over and over again. Attempts to exit the circle proved unfruitful as day becomes night. Clark is at the wheel and the family is asleep. It’s a classic tale of going in circles.

kids-big-ben-parliament-again

I see similarities between these visual effects in the above mentioned movie scenes and the effects that circular schooling has on children. Over the years, I panned these circles thousands of times from various angles and heights. Pausing, slowing down, or exiting were not viable options. I made frequent and valiant efforts, but the pace of high stakes schooling forces propulsion.  An object in motion stays in motion as Newton explained.

The vast and dizzying views of schooling as a mass diploma-producing factory left many experiencing the illusion of learning. The scenes observed were classroom and school-wide management programs, rewards and punishments, assignments, homework, tests, and grading practices, honor roll status, tons of work sheets along the way, and a final certificate that validates completion. It’s done in a cyclical fashion, a 360 degree circle each year with increasing speed.

What they, and I have discovered, is the difference between going to school and getting an education. They are radically different. Authentic learning is unique and can never be mass produced no matter how hard we try.

Psychological studies in child and adolescent development tell us that we all learn differently and at different rates. Formulating that understanding into a mass production model of learning will inevitably result in casualties. Teachers intuitively know this as they are told to differentiate based on the needs of their students. True differentiation does not square well with a mass production model that crams way too many children into a classroom.

In my book, Learning Unleashed – Reimagining and Repurposing our Schools, I suggested several ways we might benefit children by creating a more authentic and engaging model. Since its publication, I’ve painfully come to the conclusion that schools can’t change. They can’t make real or substantive change because they lack the autonomy to do so. It’s a fixed system that requires circular movement around fixed scenery unhindered by any force that would attempt to stop it. This saddens me because I know so many great people who work tirelessly every day in schools to make them work better for children and young people. I’m glad they stay. Like Obi Wan, they’re our only hope.

Please understand that teachers, administrators, parents and children who chose not to stay offer valid and sound reasons for exiting the round-about. I can’t blame them. When all you see is Big Ben over and over, it might be time for some new scenery.

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Choice

PowerofChoice_Blog

At one time, public education held the promise of providing a common good for the people it served. Schools reflected the values and beliefs of the local community.  For the most part; home, schools, places of worship, and local government spoke a common language. Families sent their young ones off to others trusting that the school, (in parentis loco) would provide a quality education that prepares young people to become productive citizens of the greater society.

While some have always chosen private options, the majority of families still access the public schooling option as a viable on-ramp to what they believe offers a well rounded educational experience for their children.  While not a pure monopoly, the public school paradigm is a tough one to substitute. It is accepted by most as the common good option of choice, except when it’s not working for them. What other choices do they have?

It never ceases to amaze me how the word, “choice” evokes a multitude of emotions and has many different meanings depending upon the situation.

Studies conducted by child and adolescent psychologists tell us that offering choice is vital to the healthy development of children.  Educational articles on how to offer more choice in the classroom are published, tweeted and retweeted on a regular basis. Businesses vie with one another to offer their customers choice. The law has settled that choice in matters of personal decisions, such as abortion, is a fundamental right of an individual.  History has shown us that true freedom depends upon choice. When choice is taken away, freedom is lost. So, choice is a good thing right?  It depends.

It appears that many who believe in the choice options listed above do not adhere to the same choice principles when it comes to education. Specifically, there are those who decry any efforts to offer educational choice to the millions of children and young people who desperately need it. The National Teachers Association and a plethora of other public school advocates consistently rebuke and shame anyone who dares to think differently about public education. Those who promote choice in education are assigned the most unflattering labels. Tragically, those who seek or exercise school choice are stereotyped and targeted unfairly.

Those who believe that choice as applied to schooling should also be a fundamental right, are mocked as religious fanatics, subversive and even dangerous extortionists. There is no doubt that some of these types may be in the mix, but they are the exception, not the rule. Even within mainstream schooling, there are terrible tragedies that occur. None should happen anywhere, but unfortunately they do. This is not a valid argument against school choice.

The monopoly of public schooling is gradually shifting. It served a purpose for our industrial age but is sorely unprepared for innovation. It’s premise, design and structure are factory like which places it at odds with most current career and job requirements. It still teaches and tests for a bygone era, not skill sets for this century and beyond. It simply can’t stay far enough ahead of the curve to be relevant enough to this or the next generation. Only book publishers and the out of touch bureaucrats cash in on the belief that it still can. 

Knowing stuff is nice, but not necessarily valuable. With a little effort one can locate and access needed information.Teachers are great at bringing information to kids and in multiple formats. Many use technology in some form to assist with information getting. But the bottom line is mastering the grade level curriculum in a given period of time. Student work hanging on the walls of a classroom are good examples of this. One might notice variations, but on a set theme. There is little room for deviation. Individuality is not the point, conformity is.

What is not taught or tested is creative thinking that promotes innovation. Thinking out of the box and finding different ways to solve problems is not typically in the regular school curriculum. Allowing ample time for trial and error, or persisting at a difficult task for as long as it takes, are not highly valued in the classroom. We don’t regularly do this in schools even though some insist we do.  The format and schedule don’t allow for it.

Standards testing looms over schools like a dark cloud of inevitability pushing creativity to the back burner or maybe the last week of school.  

For these reasons and a multitude of important others, parents, students and even teachers want options. Many are accessing them by way of innovative charter schools, homeschooling and the self-directed learning path.  (See Kerry McDonald’s website.) Here

Can we please stop demonizing those who want to seek their educational journey differently? Simply stated, the more educational options, the better the playing field for all young people.

The Power of Choice is liberating.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dreaded question: “Why are we doing this?”

scale

Charged with rolling out one of the largest, nationwide educational initiatives (Common Core Standards) a few years ago,  I heard this comment more than once. “Why are we doing this? “Honestly, my initial gut reaction was annoyance, because we spent a multitude of hours planning it. Regaining my composure,  I paused for a moment to state my obviously rehearsed response. “We are doing this in an effort to bring all students a more rigorous curriculum that will prepare them for college and careers.” That was the talking point given to those of us who needed to make it happen. Then came the next question, “what’s wrong with the ones we already have?” My rehearsed and rapidly fired response for that question came with even more quizzical looks than the first response had.

Nonetheless, we forged ahead and swallowed the time consuming, expensive mandate. A few years later I retired. This roll-out was not the tipping point for me, but added to my already long list that started with the same dreaded question, “why are we doing this?” I learned that while those questions are important, the status quo of schooling is more important.  We can only entertain questions that will keep the institution of schooling intact. Any effort to dismantle, change, or do away with the format, procedures, policies, and practices is met with consternation. We simply don’t want to DO SCHOOL any other way than how it’s been done.

Sure, we grab buzz words/ideas on a regular basis and add them to our collection of greatest school hits. We embrace strategies to control students, to manage behavior, and to push the narrative that all of it is good for kids. We publicly shame with charts, verbal reprimands, low grades and disability/failure labels. We learn that herding the masses requires strict adherence to rules and we reward those who abide by them.  I know this because I did it and many others did/do as well.  It’s impossible to do it any other way because the system is built on the economies of scale model, not real learning.

See explanation here. (Prateek Agarwal, Economies of Scale in Intelligent Economist, May 5, 2018.)

In other words, the more students you cram into classrooms, the more money a school system will have to operate.

Here a just a few of my questions.

  • At what point is there a diminished return?
  • Does it really matter?
  • Do we really care?
  • Are schools designed for learning or leaving?

You decide.

 

 

Picture of Scales Courtesy of Pixabay.com

School supply list: Common Sense

common sense

It’s back to school time, again. I’m reading all the pumped up tweets on how to make it a great year, again. I’m also reading many of the “how to” and “how not to” articles that promise a fantastic school year.  The last few articles I’ve read from major and well known educational publications left me baffled and amused.

One finds studies on the effects of proper lighting, positioning of furniture and materials, and the overall atmosphere of a classroom on how students feel about school. This idea seems to resurface every few years as a novel concept. If students have to be in a square box all day, I guess we should make it as pleasant as possible. Common sense, right?

Another article addresses helping students understand that math is not something to fear, that is is okay to make mistakes, take one’s time and think about the math instead of the right answer.  Common sense, right? This is not new information, we just don’t pay any attention to it. Good teachers want to take the time needed for this kind of learning, but when pacing guides rule the school, they have to move on despite what their gut tells them.

Most teachers work hard, very hard. They are dealt a random deck of same aged students, given a room in which to work and handed all the deadlines for the year. They are told to make sure that all the students meet the standards by the end of the year regardless of where those students are at the beginning of the school year.   Teachers can’t slow down too much or speed ahead too quickly based on the needs of the students because our school system doesn’t work that way.  We handle that through mortifying remediation, failing and repeating a grade level or possibly testing for a gifted program, when there is one available. Common sense, right?

I recently read another “not so new” finding that reports principals wanting more coaching from their district office and less compliance oriented meetings.  Common sense, right? Another clog in the wheel of our current schooling scenario requires a systematic roll out of compliance procedures to ensure that everyone is on the same page. It’s likely that many district office staff would like nothing better than to spend more time in schools coaching and supporting the work of a school leader.  The brutal reality is that much of district level time is taken up in compliance documentation, mandated reporting and a myriad of other responsibilities including parent complaints and concerns.  The bureaucracy beast is in control.

Now it seems that everyone wants a great school year, students, parents, teachers, principals, school staff and all those who work at that behind the scenes place called the district/county office. Common sense, right? When asked, each participant will tell you what they need in order to have a successful school year, but do we ask? That might be a good place to start, but do we really want to know?

Much of what we do in schools is antithetical to authentic and meaningful learning. Many of the practices, procedures and policies are not designed with learning in mind even though schools are identified as “learning” institutions. Schools keep running on the endless wheel of repetition and reinvention of the same old ideas under new names. It’s no wonder that “Back to School” cheer leading is needed in order to sell an outdated industrial aged relic that refuses to move on or pass away.

My hope is that brave people in schools will ask the tough, common sense questions of the right people on behalf of every learner in every school. My other hope is that real choices in one’s educational journey become a reality for every child. 

Please add common sense to the school supply list this year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

School’s Out for Summer – Let’s Play!

holt quote

Without the threat of looming school deadlines, tests, grades and mandated curriculum, a lot of learning can happen.

Summers provide the kind of learning that usually doesn’t happen in school. Children and young people don’t have to worry about cramming for a test, memorizing facts, doing homework or getting graded on their work or lack of work. It’s kind of liberating.

Summers, without school, offer a respite of sorts for all the young people who have suddenly gained back six to seven hours of their daily lives. In the best case scenario, they can sleep in, stay in their pajamas if they want to and plan their day without any direct instruction from an adult. They learn time management in real time. It’s kind of empowering.

Many children experience and exhibit more carefree attitudes during the summer months. It’s not surprising. They can determine their daily agendas without the interruption of bells or teachers telling them what comes next. They can order their own play with or without friends. They can explore indoors or outside using their own powers of perception, creativity and imagination. They can learn from observation, interaction and risk-taking.  It’s kind of exhilarating.

Of course all of this can fly out the window with a little help from well-meaning parents or caretakers who over-schedule a child’s every waking moment. Summers are often filled with adult planned activities designed to promote learning and to use time wisely. It makes us a good parent, right?

Camping is a great summer learning adventure and some young people really enjoy it. Extended, or multiple summer camps chosen by parents, however, may suck the life out of an otherwise enjoyable summer for a young person. This is especially true if they don’t want to be there. Coercion is not a great teaching tool.

Some believe that children won’t learn unless someone is teaching them so summer becomes an extended school year. Our misconceptions around learning are largely due to our own inability to hear the voices of our children. They don’t need moment by moment scheduled activities. They don’t need constant supervision.  They need the freedom to explore, play, design, imagine, innovate, sleep, eat, laugh and have fun. They can actually learn in those situations.

Play is learning hard at work. 

Holt - learning is activity

School’s out for summer, so let them play!

Coming Soon…

grandbaby

There is no doubt that being a grandparent is one of life’s best gifts. In most cases, you can enjoy them without the heavy responsibility of “raising” them.  It’s a real sweet spot for sure.

I wrote in an earlier blog about my dear grandma and what I learned from her wisdom and sacrifices. I’ve also written about how I’ve learned from my grandchildren. (Check back to my July 10, 2016 and August 7, 2017 blogs.)

There is truly a “grand” relationship between these two generations that simply defies comprehension. There is plenty of unconditional love and an abundance of patience on both ends, two qualities that were surely tested in the parent/child scenario.

News Bulletin: I get to be a grandma once again with a new little boy arriving in early July. I’m getting ready! Well maybe not as rigorously as his parents are, but I’m working on a self-directed, self-imposed curriculum in grand parenting 2.0. This is vital since there has been a ten year gap in little ones and a twenty year gap since my first grandchild was born.

To put it bluntly, I’m older! I know because picture albums show me easily sitting cross-legged on the floor, building Lego houses with my first couple of grandchildren. At this point in time, getting on the floor also means having to get up, which is no longer an easy feat or a pleasant sight.  I see pictures of me lifting my 20-25 pound grandchildren into a high chair, a car, and a swing wondering how I did that without wincing.

I plan to complete this prep course for young at heart, but old in body, grandparents like me. I am lifting weights, packing heavier grocery bags and taking the steps more often. I’m parking my car far from store entrances so the walk is longer. I’m also playing memory games, like where did I park my car and where are my keys? I’m hoping to pass with flying colors but I’ve been known to fail a time or two in my life. Nevertheless, I am in this 100%.

Bad knees are my nemesis. As the dictionary definition of Nemisis states: the inescapable agent of someone’s or something’s downfall. Not now! I’m hoping to forge ahead regardless because I am going to be a Grammy again and there is nothing better on earth than being a grandparent.

Coming soon…another grand-baby to love!

A Note to Teachers – Thank you!

Typical Teacher To Do list (with added comments for emphasis).

  1. Plan lessons and prepare classroom and materials. (Non-stop.)
  2. Individualize/personalize instruction. (Good Luck!)
  3. Design and deliver appropriate assessments. (Have we agreed yet on what is appropriate?)
  4. Maintain records on attendance, assessments, and grades. (The fun part.)
  5. Supplement textbooks with appropriate additional materials. (Keep looking.)
  6. Utilize a classroom management strategy that works. (Keep looking.)
  7. Keep records and identify students with special needs, health related, behavioral, etc. (Keep these kids in mind when doing # 2 and # 3.)
  8. Contact and work with parents/caregivers/counselors etc. via email, phone, and conferences. (Are there regular business hours for this?)
  9. Collect money for various activities; meals, field trips, fund raisers, etc. (Don’t leave the $$$ in your desk.)
  10. Plan and prepare field trips including student health related needs. (This is not a waste of time.)
  11. Attend school and district meetings. (In moderation of course.)
  12. Collaborate with colleagues. (Often and always.)
  13. Complete paper work and expectations for regular teacher evaluation. (Hoop jumping.)
  14. Spend personal money to enhance classroom. (Think of it as a contribution to a good cause.)
  15. Take additional classes for profession growth and development.  (In order to earn more money…so you can enhance your classroom.)
  16. Maintain a positive attitude. (Keep trying.)
  17. Add ten more that I’ve missed and repeat every school year.

I’d like to list two others.

  • Make learning meaningful, authentic and fun.
  • Keep the child as the focus.

These two are so important and sometimes lost in the myriad of mandated items that school teachers must do.  For those who think out of the conventional school box, these two might be the only ones on your list. Just imagine!

Whether public, private, charter, homeschooling or unschooling, a caring and kind adult makes all the difference in the life of a child. Thank you to all who accept this responsibility.

teacher_appreciation

 

 

What Schools Tell Us And What We Believe

caring adult

I woke up on Monday morning so excited to meet my eleven year old granddaughter at a library half way between her home and mine.  While driving thirty minutes to the designated meeting spot, I found myself in a “feel good” moment as the rays from an emerging spring sun periodically lit on my face. Surviving a rather long and cold winter I welcomed this spectacular warmth.

The beautiful hills and valleys I traveled were dotted with farm silos, horses and cows, and farm machinery. It reminded me of a time long ago when I traveled this same route on visits back home to Pennsylvania with my husband and four children. Soaking in the sights, I almost missed the exit to the back road where this beautiful library sat nestled on a small hill directly above a lovely park and children’s playground.

My daughter had an appointment to keep so I had at least an hour to spend with my granddaughter. Our meeting came about from a brave decision my daughter made to pull her daughter out of the local public school about two weeks ago. At this point in the school year, many might say why pull her out now? When my daughter shared her decision with me, I said, “Congratulations – how can I help?” So my help came in the form of meeting at the library to see where Alexis is with regard to mathematics.

In an attempt to gauge how best I could help her, I asked her a few questions. First, to share with me the school assigned 5th grade math books she brought with her. She set FIVE paperback books on the table and proceeded to tell me the purpose of each one. One for classwork, one for homework, one for extra practice, one for more extra practice and one that was an exact duplicate of the other.  FIVE books!  As one whose job it was to order and purchase textbooks for my former school district, all I could see was dollar signs $$$$$ and money wasted that might have gone towards teacher salaries.  I set the books aside.

Before moving onto the the next question, she informed me that she was not very good in math, that she was just average. I asked her how she came up with that analysis. Without hesitation, she said, “that’s what my teacher told me.” I asked her if she thought that was true. She giggled and said, “maybe or maybe not.”

As we made our way through this informal math Q & A,  she started to perk up quite a bit.  The discussion gave us a starting point and without my direction, she chose to focus on fifth grade fractions.  I shared the online Khan Academy as a quick way for her to access/practice fraction problems. I asked her to explain to me the steps she took to get her answers.  She easily did that. She also told me that there is not enough time in school to ask a lot of questions so sometimes she doesn’t get the right answer. 

She was also quite amused that the method shown (pictorial fraction segments) in the Khan Academy video was different than how her book taught her but that the answer was still correct. I assured her that there might be even more ways to solve problems than the way we had both learned. She approved that idea and said, “I’d love to know them all!”

I let her decide when it was time to end since her mom gave us an open-ended opportunity. She chose to take four of the mini quizzes that Khan offers before calling it quits for the morning. She made one or two minor errors that she chose to correct. Her proclamation before we headed to the park sounded like this; “I guess I’m not average after all and I really do like math, thanks Grammy!” I just asked questions and she directed herself.

My takeaways:

  1. Worth the 30 minute drive.
  2. Happy to help.
  3. Beautiful time with my granddaughter.
  4. Alexis asking when will we do math together again.

Her takeaways:

  1. Worth the 30 minute drive.
  2. Glad my Grammy can help.
  3. Fun time with Grammy.
  4. Learning that she is not “average” whatever that is, and that she might actually like math.

Footnote:  I highly recommend going to a park right after doing math, it’s exhilarating! 

 

Schools For Learning

The “educational” twitter feeds are full of great ideas offering to make school much better for the learner. I read them all the time, like this one; “Knowledge shouldn’t just be a landing point—it should be a springboard. More class time needs to be devoted not just to mastering the material, but launching from it.” (Education Week) Or this one; “Every child deserves an adult who will never give up on them…” (MindShift) Or this one; “Recess is often sacrificed to make room for more academics. The research says that’s a big mistake.” (Edutopia)

There are also a plethora of eduvoices declaring what needs to happen in schools in order to better prepare students for life. Listed below are a notable few.

  • “High school is where we connect students with their futures by uncovering their passions and developing their unique interests and strengths … Ultimately society needs many diverse talents, and standardization that ranks and sorts on a single dimension does not serve us well.” (Linda Darling-Hammond)
  • “Research shows that for qualitative feedback to help, it must replace grades. When students get a comment AND a grade, as Dylan William observed, the 1st thing they look at is the grade, and the 2nd thing they look at is…someone else’s grade.” (Alfie Kohn)
  • “The emphasis on testing comes at the expense of teaching children how to employ their natural creativity and entrepreneurial talents – the precise talents that might insulate them against the unpredictability of the future in all parts of the world.” (Sir Ken Robinson)

It never ceases to amaze me how the school world latches on to these morsels of wisdom even to the point of paying massive consultant fees to bring these folks to their schools or districts. I know this happens. I did it in my leadership roles over the years. But what happens after they leave? What happens after the professional development for teachers is completed? What happens for the students? What changes?

Viewing this phenomenon now from a different perch in life, I find it simply baffling. Smart people in schools, seem to recreate the hamster/wheel scenario on a regular basis. We run after the latest, so-called research-based, best practices or other new buzz word only to find that nothing much really changes for the learner. In the meantime, teachers are in a constant state of flux trying to keep up with the new expectations often feeling exhausted and somewhat burdened under the weight. Why do we do this over and over?

Here is my eduvoice added to the mix.

The ultimate goal of schooling should be authentic and meaningful learning.

Instead, it is artificial learning.

Students learn how to fill out worksheets. They learn how to take tests and provide the correct answer. They learn how to behave and how to make the teacher happy. They learn a vast array of disjointed facts that they must memorize. They learn their worth in the value of grades, GPA, and test scores. They learn that time is not on their side and that asking questions may or may not be profitable. They learn that the goal of school is to get good grades, pass a grade level and go to the next one until it’s over in 12th grade.

As Alfie Kohn points out, “In a word, learning is decontextualized. We break ideas down into tiny pieces that bear no relation to the whole. We give students a brick of information, followed by another brick, followed by another brick, until they are graduated, at which point we assume they have a house. What they have is a pile of bricks, and they don’t have it for long.”

Young people are not given the time or the opportunity to go much deeper than a particular grade level curriculum allows. They are one of too many in a classroom that is designed to get them from point A to point B in exactly 8 or 9 months give or take a day or two.  Never mind that some can go much farther than point B or that others have not arrived at point A yet. We call these two points, gifted and at-risk.  Interesting that we feel the need to label learners based on how quickly or slowly they learn, when in fact it is inherently normal. We all learn differently, at different rates and in different ways.

The idea to totally revamp a compulsory, coercive, artificial structure of schooling that inhibits authentic, deep, and relevant learning is seen as radical and risky. What is truly radical and risky is the continued practice of running the hamster wheel in the hope of producing resilient and resourceful learners ready to take on their world. They know the wheel, the world is another story.

What can we do now? How can schools facilitate real learning? Who has the courage to face the needed changes that will spark a revolution in education? Many brave visionaries are forging this path with much success.  I wish there were more.

For a place to start, let’s get out of the hamster wheel of schooling. Let’s do authentic and meaningful learning, the kind of learning that lasts a lifetime not just for a test. It’s not really that hard to do. Please read my book, Learning Unleashed: Re-imagining and Re-purposing our schools.

hamster wheel

Image Credit: The Startup Sessions