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



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