Are You Hearing the BUZZ?

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I’ve noticed a strange phenomenon in schools. Kids come so excited to learn and within a few short years they don’t appear to be quite as interested. You can ask them and they will tell you. Do we ever wonder why? Do we ever listen to what they tell us? Do we even care?

I’ve heard school folks say that young kids are not disciplined to sit and listen, complete their worksheets, follow directions, or hand in assignments on time…to which I say, of course they aren’t. That kind of “so-called learning” is not introduced until they go to school at about five or six years old. School is where we “teach” them how to do all those tasks- and we do it mostly by threat, bribery, or coercion.

Most children, before entering formal schooling, have not completed a worksheet or listened to verbal instructions on how to build a Lego village before actually building one. Few have stopped to record the numerical values or geometric shapes of the colorful blocks they just stacked on the living room floor. Many have never read directions on how to dissect a bug or ride a bike. Most children don’t fill out a study guide of important facts to remember before they play a new video game or listen to their favorite songs. Most have no concept of time when they are learning something new or enjoying a familiar and interesting hobby or pastime.

Children are learning all the time and in every moment. More often than not, they do this without the aid of verbal directions or written tests. They frequently evaluate themselves- both their accomplishments and challenges. They continue to learn this way out of the school setting and in spite of it. Much of what they learn outside of school is free from the restrictive practices within schools that often handcuff them. For a handcuffed child, this kind of learning is far less engaging.

School learning requires a different kind of processing, thinking, and reasoning. It tends to rob children of discovery, imagination, and the important lessons of perseverance, trail and error. Learning in school has an artificial and arbitrary set of rules in which students have no say. An exception occurs when smart teachers recognize this phenomenon and strive to undo the damage through more individualized, participatory and relevant instructional coaching.

I’ve heard school folks and parents say that kids have to learn how to sit and listen, follow directions, complete work and hand it in on time because they will need those skills as an adult. This raises a rather bewildering notion. Does it take twelve years to teach this and are we sure this is as important as we think it is? Given the fact that more 21st century workplaces are looking for those who can collaborate, innovate, and think out of the box, this school notion of conformity seems tenuous at best. However, it does work well to create the factory worker mindset.

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It may be quite appropriate at certain times that we ask children to sit quietly or to listen to important logistical directions. It is also a very important expectation that children understand time constraints and deadlines. Most of us can also agree that we hope our children can read, write and problem solve with ease as they navigate into an unknown future world of WORK.

For the most part, schools create students in their own image which is not necessarily an image of the future.  We think we are creating a prepared work force when we are actually manufacturing workers of the past. Information and access has reached so far beyond a typical classroom. Even our textbooks are outdated the year they are published.

In general, schools work excessively well as extinguishers of natural curiosity and excitement. They do this by standardizing, pre-packaging, and force-feeding young people random and often meaningless information.  They do this by bribing students with grades, GPA, and gold stars. They do this by requiring regurgitation of facts on tests instead of deep and lasting comprehension. They do this by refusing to provide the kind of learning that young people accessed before they arrived at our schools.

I refuse to believe that schools can’t provide authentic learning for their students. I know many teachers/ schools WANT to do this but are not given the freedom and support to do so. There is not a consensus yet among educators and their communities, and the bureaucracy of education is out of control and out of touch with reality. However, there is a new kind of BUZZ happening in the schooling world that is worth a listen.

I support those who work in and out of schools trying to change the system, one practice at a time. I am encouraged to see more teachers and teaching chat/twitter sites learn from each other on how to challenge the practices that they know are not benefiting their students. I am energized to read and hear teacher stories on how their students are responding to their efforts.  I am excited to know that more teachers are venturing out of their comfort zone accessing real time learning for their students via technology. I am also thrilled to see apprenticeships and mentoring programs popping up all over the country where real time learning is coupled with real time work. (See Praxis)

To all of you brave warriors out there…Keep up the good work and MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!

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