Hindsight is 20/20


The year 2020 is upon us and it offers a whimsical yet important opportunity to revisit the phrase, “hindsight is 20/20” as we think about the future while remembering the past.

This phrase is particularly salient when it comes to the history and evolution of the American school system. I encourage the reading of the article sited as a quick history lesson.  See article here

When one considers the evolution of the American public education system and its current impact on young people, questions still arise although somewhat different than at its founding.

As information gathering, problem solving and critical thinking are key and necessary skills for twenty-first century jobs, how well are our public schools preparing young people to meet the challenge? How well are schools preparing young people to become well-informed, knowledgeable and contributing citizens?

If the most recent, Program for International Assessment (PISA) test results are any indicator, those questions are valid. New York Times article Here

In our schooling history and evolution, multiple reform efforts tackle the need for accurate measures to assess whether or not our children are actually learning in school. A more compelling question may be, what have our schools learned from our children?

Actually, our children, most of them, learn exactly what we teach.

Here is a small list for example, in no particular order of importance.

  1. Compliance
  2. Obedience
  3. Good behavior
  4. Attendance
  5. Right answers
  6. Time limits
  7. How to get good grades
  8. How to sit, stand, ask, and move
  9. How to take a test
  10. How to think about their thinking (meta-cognition)*

*Studies have shown that children grow naturally in their meta cognition. We as adults, can help stimulate that growth. Some schools stimulate growth and others don’t. It’s a coin toss.

At least nine out of the ten items listed above do not align well with most standardized or performance-based assessments. Think about it.

In my book, Learning Unleashed Re-imagining and Re-purposing Our Schools, chapter five addresses this phenomenon with authentic and very personal accounts when asked the question, “What do you remember learning in school?” (page 37)

One particular response is as fresh in my mind as it was the day I recorded it for my book.

“School was like a pile of irrefutable facts, and my job was to learn all of those facts and make sure that my teacher knew that I knew all of them. It was like that game where you look at a bunch of things, and then they take the things out of the room and you have to recall all the things you saw. The person who has the best recall wins.” (page 38)

We need to look at how one becomes educated much differently than how our early founders did. We live in a time with vastly different needs, technology and access. Public education in 2020 is not and can never be a fully equipped or able means to arrive at the learners/parents desired end.

Its scope is too broad, its reach is too narrow, and its relevance is fleeting.

There are multiple ways in which to become educated. In fact, it is essential that those opportunities are embraced and valued for our young people to fully realize their potential and contributions. Homeschooling, un-schooling, hybrid programs, online courses, family-led co-ops, charters and other innovative approaches to the old school model can all yield desired results. More and more families are looking for alternatives, particularly those who are trapped by a zipcode.

Perfect vision is marked 20/20. If we look back and understand what we might have done better or differently then our hindsight is considered 20/20. It’s a form of meta-cognition similar to what we try to stimulate in our children.

Maybe as adults, we are still learning meta-cognition too. One can only hope. Let’s look to the future of education as an opportunity to get it right once and for all.

Sources cited:

  1. Education to the Masses – The Rise of Public Education in Early America, Ted Brackemyre Accessed Jan. 10, 2020
  2. ‘It Just Isn’t Working’: PISA Test Scores Cast Doubt on U.S. Education Efforts, New York Times Dana Goldstein Dec 5, 2019. Accessed Jan. 19, 2020.
  3. Learning Unleashed, Reimagining and Repurposing Our Schools, Evonne Rogers Rowman and Littlefield, 2016.

*Disclaimer: The title of this blog and subsequent references do not indicate endorsement for any 2020 candidate who may also use the term as part of their campaign efforts.  I do not use this platform for political endorsements.

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