If you are attempting to fix education problems in the US or if you are one of those that claim nothing is really wrong, it's just a matter of Republican messaging, I strongly suggest you watch this:
Don't have 12 minutes to watch this engaging video? Below the fold, I have a synopsis. But, seriously, this video is worth the time. Skip my words, watch his, and then join us in the comments below.
Sir Ken Robinson speaks to RSA about education.
Sir Ken starts with the premise that nations all over the world are reforming education in an attempt to create a space for our children in the economic realities of the 21st century without understanding what that economic reality will actually look like. At the same time, we are also attempting to give our children a cultural identity within the larger global system.
The reform movement, however, is trying to meet the future by "doing what they did in the past"
1. Alienate millions of kids who see no purpose in going to school
Wait a minute, you say. I wasn't alienated! My kids aren't alienated. We believe in the system! Well, when I grew I also believed that a solid education would get you into college which in turn would result in a degree which would then result in a job. I don't think it is farfetched to say that most kids don't believe this anymore. Just take a look at Occupy Wall Street.
2. Marginalizes things that kids think are important.
I think it is fair to say that many kids don't feel a connection to school. Standardized curriculum means that teachers can no longer tailor lesson plans to their kid's interests, and that many communities are studying subjects that have little to no importance to their way of life.
At this point, Sir Ken feels the need to mention the catch all cry of reformists - Raise Standards! He actually wonders why anyone would assume we don't want to raise standards in the first place. To him, it's a given that an education system would always strive to do better.
The Pillars of Public Education
He reminds us that our current education system "was designed and conceived for a different age... in the intellectual culture of the Enlightenment..." and under "the economic circumstances of the Industrial Revolution." Basically, it had two pillars - an intellectual pillar and an economic pillar.
The intellectual pillar was based on the concept of intelligence that existed at the time of the Enlightenment - that intelligent people were good at deductive reasoning and a had a good knowledge of the classics. Therefore, if we taught using the classics and we made deductive reasoning the base of all education, we would create intelligent students. Basically, everybody who learned from these methods was thought to be an Academic (those with deductive reasoning skills and an education in the classics) and everyone else was Non-Academic (not smart enough).
We see Conservative Republicans take advantage of this model - they tell us all the time that professors and scientists are elitist and assume the rest of us are stupid - yet they are often some of the first to jump on the classical education bandwagon.
Sir Ken admits that the system has worked well for SOME people. But, at the same time, he tells that it has been a failure for many more.
At this point in the video, I have been nodding my head, agreeing with everything he has to say. I am well read, I have gone through the public education system and see exactly what he is talking about. I get it and I agree. His speech is well crafted, easy to follow and the video adds a visual element that is engaging. The artist "keeps up"with Sir Ken's speech and draws appealing graphics that draw us in... much better than your average Power Point presentation. But I don't think I'm going to watch more... until:
The Plague of ADHD
Sir Ken shows us a map of the USA with incidents of ADHD. He talks about our current society and how we bombard children everyday with media images - tv, computers, cellphones, advertisements on the street, etc. - from a very young age and then we expect them to sit still in a classroom and focus on boring stuff. He makes the point that the incidents of ADHD have risen with the incidents of standardized testing.
Made me wonder what else has increased with the incidents of standardized testing? More desk time and less recess. More studying to the test and less art, music, and PE. All the things that would allow a child to recharge, to allow their brain to work in a different manner, if only for a short amount of time.
What is even more interesting is that incidents of ADHD increase as we move east across the US. The incidents also tend to be heavier in the Southern States. Sir Ken gets a good laugh line with "They start loosing interest in Oklahoma," moves on to "They can hardly think straight in Arkansas" and caps it off with "by the time they get to Washington, they've lost it completely."
Sir Ken explains how the Arts, and perhaps even Science and Math when properly taught, allow an aesthetic experience. Basically, when we are learning aesthetically, we are learning in the moment and are engaged not only with our minds but often with our hearts. "Our senses are operating at their peak."
The opposite of this is anaesthetic - basically "we deaden ourselves to what is happening around us". When we medicate children for ADHD, we often anaesthetize them in order to focus them in class. Other kids are capable of self-anaesthetizing... daydreams anyone? It just is a matter of degree. Why do we anaesthetize children... so that they can better fit the factory model...
We have built a system of education that is the image of the Industrial Revolution. For example, Sir Ken tell us that schools are still organized on factory lines: ringing bells, separate facilities, separate subjects. We educate children in batches, by their date of manufacture.
And public education today is increasingly about conformity, about fitting into the system. If we are interested in a better model for education, we shouldn't start from a production line mentality. Current reform moves us to more conformity, more standardization. Sir Ken believes, as do I, that we need to move in the exact opposite direction and change the paradigm.
In order to change the paradigm, Sir Ken introduces Divergent Thinking. Divergent thinking is "an essential Capacity for Creativity." It is the ability to see lots of possible ideas, to interpret a question in multiple ways, to see multiple answers, not just one.
He tells of a study in a book called "Break Point and Beyond" where they tested 1500 people for divergent thinking. 98% of them scored genius level. But here's the kicker. These were kindergarden students. And guess what. This was a longitudinal study. They tested the kids again at 8-10 years old. And again at 13-15 years old. They lost the capacity for divergent thinking. Sir Ken believes a lot of that is due to the way they learn in school; there is usually one right answer and that answer is in the back of the book. We need a system that not only encourages divergent thinking but that engages it on a daily basis.
He makes an important point - Education isn't this way because teachers want it this way; it's happened this way because it's in the gene pool of our education system... that factory model he discussed in the beginning. Divergent thinking is hard to support within the framework of the factory model. Yet, we Americans need divergent thinking more than ever. We want citizens that are able to think outside the box, who are able to come up with new solutions to the never ending problems that face our society, and who are flexible enough to work with those who can't see in a non-liner fashion.
Most of you know that I homeschool my two teenage sons. I didn't chose homeschooling to escape the factory model - but I have long since learned that part of what I hate about modern education is the batch system of keeping kids in one grade with the same age kids. My children experienced German kindergarden where they have kids ages 3-6 grouped together and it was a spectacular experience! And during our homeschool years they have encountered mixed-aged classes, play groups, and socialization opportunities in large number. I think all of that has helped them be more flexible in their approach to other kids as well as made them more able to hold conversations with adults.
I also hate the idea that kids are learning the "right" answers. I want education in our public schools to be more about exposing kids to educational opportunities that appeal to them and are pertinent to their neighborhoods as well. I do see where we could take our own child-centered learning approach and place that in a public school setting - but lets get rid of the batches and the bells. It would mean completely changing our current approach to education - it's a radical suggestion for the 21st century but why not? The idea of the factory model of education was radical for it's time as well. Why not have kids meet by interest for part of the day - if kids learn 'how to learn,' it won't matter what the subject matter is. They will be able to learn what they need when they need it because they will have the most basic skills mastered. Kids are natural learners and our current system stifles that process in so many ways.
If you're intrigued after reading this synopsis, then please watch the video, it really is just under 12 minutes and that time will fly. I missed a lot of fine points that he made that are well-worth hearing. The broad ideas are here for us to discuss in the comments below.
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