by Jeff Rogers
Is the traditional approach to schooling, classrooms filled with desks and teachers talking up front, no longer working? Are the ghosts of education past actually hurting, rather than helping today's students?
There is a growing number of educators worldwide who would say yes, yes, yes…and that we are in serious need of a major do over. They contend the education system as we know it is broken, and not worth fixing, but instead that it must be re-invented or re-imaged in ways that even educationally progressive Thomas Dewey would not have imagined.
Visionaries See What Needs to Be
Sal Kahn, of Kahn Academy, says the video can be best used to re-invent education. Students would view instructional videos as homework, and then go to school to do actual work where teachers can help them.
Sugata Mitra, of S.O.L.E. (Self-Organized Learning Environments), says schools need to be in the clouds, where students all over the world could learn interactively, in learning labs, with one another, guided by carefully pre-constructed and flexible learning programs.
Daphne Koller, of Coursera, says that classes, especially those that are the most intriguing, should be offered to all students on-line for free.
Geoff Mulgan, of Studio School, says project learning in the key to how new schools should operate.
Kiran Sethi, of the Riverside School of India, says the first most important thing students must learn is that they “can.” Her students take on local issues and work to solve them with their own hands.
And proponents of the Big Picture School movement, like Innovations High School, say education has to be done one student at a time, and done so in a mentored self-teaching community.
Classroom-based Learning is the Culprit
Upwards of 100-million students attend school in this country and experience education the old-fashioned way…in classrooms, sitting at desks, listening to a teacher. Is there something wrong with that?
Prakish Nair, way back in 2011, in Education Week, dared to say boldly what others only thought about or whispered in modern times. Nair says our school system is broken. It has failed. And it does not need to be fixed; it needs to be reformed.
The confines of the classroom itself, Nair says, is the culprit of failure. Classroom-based learning has not helped students meet 21st Century learning needs, either locally or globally. He says the classroom is a relic, a fossil of a system that catered to needs of a time long passed.
Shortages in high-tech and other tech-skilled work areas point to the fact that our schools have failed to prepare students for the modern work world, and unless there is a drastic change, the problem will only get worse.
In short, the group-based industrial model of classroom-based education runs headlong into a growing body of research that contends that learning must be more personalized in order to maximize student achievement. Schools that can more closely be designed to meet individual instructional needs, even without completely dispensing with direct or large-group instruction, will provide more authentic and learner-appropriate opportunities for students to connect their ongoing lives with the need to learn.
The Alternative for Our Kids
Imagine going to school every day and studying hard to learn things that were keys to success in the past. Imagine having to deal with day in and day out the fact that your overall education amounts to little more than an exercise in futility.
The naked truth is that if nothing changes for our kids in America's schools, the inaction is tantamount to a clarion call for mass therapy.
The discussion has already begun, but as usual, actual change for the better in education has about a 20-year lag. If we know something does not work today, why do we wait to change it tomorrow? Would you continue to take a medicine you know is not helping you? Would you keep going down the wrong way on a road that is only leading you further away from your destination?
No, of course not. But why do we not apply that same logic to our schools? We keep petting a dead dog, denying that it is really dead. Shouldn’t we start looking for a new animal to pet…one that breathes, eats and poops in the yard?
Seriously, doing the same thing over and over, constantly hoping for a more relevant outcome, is a recipe for rampant emotional illness.
The ideas are out there, let’s give them more than a look…today. Let’s give them a try…today. Wouldn’t that be better than doing nothing new? And if it doesn’t work out, we could always try something else…tomorrow. It's time to let the ghosts of education past settle in for a much-deserved dirt nap, and stop forcing our kids to parade before them like somehow what they have to say matters anymore.