Thursday, June 23, 2011

You say you want this, so then why are you doing that?

If we can agree that there is a good chunk of the population that hated their time in school, then we need to think about how we can make school a little less like school. If the consensus among educators and parents is that we want lifelong learners then we need to play a little game called "You say you want this, so then why are you doing that?"

Here's how you play the game.

First: we have to be willing to admit that school can be improved. Then we need to admit that to improve school, we need to change school... check.

Second: we have to agree that we want children to become lifelong learners... check.

Third: we have to rethink some of the most recognizable characteristics of Old School such as homeworkgradingrewardspunishmentdisciplinehand raisingmultiple choicehonour rollscompetitiontesting, lecturingstandardization, lesson planning and curriculum... check

If you take the time to follow the links above you will see how each one of these traditional practices can be challenged.

If this game is bothersome or uncomfortable to play, that's ok. You're human. So if you need a little help, consider what Winston Churchill and Mark Twain had to say about this little game:
Churchill: However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.
Twain: It ain't what we don't know that get's us in trouble, but what we know for sure that just ain't so. 
The results are that the status quo of Old School is no longer sustainable. Many students continue to vote with their feet and leave school - what's sad is that for many students their time during school has them feeling less captivated and more just like captives.

In his article How to Create Nonreaders, Alfie Kohn chimes in:
When parents ask, "What did you do in school today?", kids often respond, "Nothing." Howard Gardner pointed out that they're probably right, because "typically school is done to students." This sort of enforced passivity is particularly characteristic of classrooms where students are exlcuded from any role in shaping the curriculums, where they're on the receiving end of lectures and questions, assignments and assessments. One result is a conspicous absence of critical thinking - something that (irony alert!) the most controlling teachers are likely to blame on the students themselves, who are said to be irresponsible, unmotivated, apathetic immature, and so on.

Unfortunately, myths are often more satisfying to us than the truth - in education we are satisfyingly distracted by a great many myths.

Do we not recognize that there are a lot of children who hate school?

For too long, school has acted for too many kids as the greatest extinguisher of curiosity. If we are serious about creating lifelong learners, school needs to stop looking so much like school. If we want to make things better for our children, we need to start questioning what we consider to be the obvious.

This is why the most successful parents and educators are constantly reflecting on their own beliefs and practices. They are in a constant state of acute mindfulness.

And it starts by asking the question: I say I want this, so then why am I doing that?

My slideshow:


  1. Very valid points! Have you joined the conversation at TED-Ed yet?

  2. This might be your best post ever.

  3. I try to restrict my responses to one or two posts a day. Today your clarity and insight require me to say "Well done" for a third time!