Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Real Learning is different

Youngme Moon writes in her book Different:

When it comes to track-and-field, we may want our runners moving in the same direction, but when it comes to medical care or higher education, we may not.

Moon's book is one of mind-boggling paradoxes. I fear that the traditional, old-school businessperson's head might spontaneously combust upon flipping the first page. Her message is that counter-intuitive!

Her first chapter deals with the competetive herd instinct. The paradox here is that when individuals or companies compete they develop a "herdlike regression towards the mean" that stifles the differences among them.

The entire premise of Youngme Moon's book throws yet more fuel on the rethink education reform fire. It is very likely that our current push for more and more commonality and standardization in an effort to make "objective" comparisons is cancerous to our ultimate goals.

We may talk the talk of differentiation and life-long learning, but for the most part education reform is walking the other direction - making these terms nothing more than a half-hearted punch line in a joke that would be funny if it weren't so damn sad.

What if our greatest efforts to create an "objective" and common education system simply populates our world full of children lost in a blur of similarity? What if the testing treadmill does nothing more than encourage kids to compete like crazy in an effort to keep up with each other - leaving them all just like everyone else?

What if we succeed in this race to the top and we find out that we were the first to get... no where?

How can educators be different in a way that makes a difference?

Maybe it means saying to no to uniformity when everyone else is saying yes.

Or saying yes to true differentiation when everyone else is saying no.

Maybe it means ignoring all test scores when everyone else is celebrating their high scores.

Or teaching less curriculum when everyone else is teaching more.

If you want to stand out from the teaching crowd, then you need to reclaim the true meaning of a word that has lost all meaning: LEARNING.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, then you know that real learning has no instruction manual. There are no step-by step instructions or prescriptive recipes.

Instead, it's about a conversation that goes something like this...

Students should experience their successes and failures not as reward and punishment but as information... measurable outcomes may be the least significant results of learning... we can't test our way to a better learning... there is a big difference between doing things to kids and working with them...

Real learning is a commitment to the unprecedented... a commitment to letting go of curriculum, grades and test scores.

The schools that stand out are the ones that understand this...


  1. I share a good deal of Joe Bower's thoughts on Preposterous. Here he reminds us that the two loudest conversations in education oppose each other. The sanity of differentiation is being forced inexorably into an impotent whisper by totalitarian homogeneity implicit in the assessment discourse. Guerrilla teaching will sustain a practical differentiation for some time as some sort of black market education. It is the sustainable course. Those of us dissenters who remain dubious of the new political orthodoxy of standards and assessment will practice in the shadows until the current movement's irrelevancy is finally recognized. Keep writing Joe.

  2. Hello my name is kimberley. I am a student in Mr.Bower's class, a.k.a Joe's class. I think it's okay to be different, everyone is different so yeah .. being different ocan be cool I guess haha.

  3. what if everyone decides to be different ? then we're being the same . we're all trying to be different , but doing the same thing . i think being different really depends how you use it .
    like companies trying to be different ? doing the same thing .
    it's okay to be yourself , being yourself , i think , it means standing out . when you're trying to be different , and others are too , you're pretty much being the same .


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