‘Kids aren’t the same as they used to be!’ Right. Nobody is arguing that point. Kids are different for sure, and all those changes aren’t all that bad. What is bad, preparing them, and school the same way we have been for the past 150 years.
It may be a surprise to hear that the foundations of our educational system developed way back at the dawn of the industrial revolution. The ideas of Johan Fichte, who was working to create an obedient army in Prussia, were adopted by Horace Mann. He was supported by four men, last names Ford, Carnegie, Vanderbilt, and Morgan, who were also looking to create obedient, predictable ‘armies’ of workers for their new industries. Since that time, not very much has changed at all. Kids still are often expected to learn in segmented, structured, predictable classes where they and their teachers are judged and ranked largely based on repetitive, standardized tests, GPAs, and other measurements. These measurements may not always be a measure of real learning. Not the world we live in now. There is a great effort worldwide to resee what school should and can be. The tools available now offer many more possibilities than even 10 years ago. Like any other industry or part of society, we are at a time of essential course correction.
So let’s take another look. We need to help students prepare to be life ready, and life ready is not the same set of skills that it used to be. It isn’t based on spitting out facts that could be given by Alexa, or Siri, or Google either. Identifying traits that will help students is a starting point. Traits that will serve students no matter how they wish to contribute and thrive in society are very valuable in this work. This isn’t just for the college-bound kid, it isn’t just for the kid who loves art, not just for the kid who wants to go right into the workforce, or start their own business. It is for EVERY KID and should be a central goal for all we do. Now for the hard part.
All change is hard. The foundations that our current educational system was built upon began in the mid-1800s. That is a lot of tradition that needs to give way to a modern way of learning and teaching that uses modern and innovative tools, methods, and ideas. Students are more than fact machines, they are people and need to have the opportunity to develop as such.
We don’t get too upset when cars, computers, medicine, or business offer new ways of attacking old challenges. Amazon, Grubhub, Uber, and Google are all witnesses of that. Don’t be too quick to judge ideas that come up even if they weren’t ‘the way it used to be’ in education. Kids need more than ever to be challenged to think not to memorize, to discuss not just listen to instructions, to create not just consume. Join the conversation in a productive way and be part of the educational branch of what many are calling the new industrial revolution. It is a work that deserves our best efforts.
Nathan Waite is the Innovations and Professional Learning Facilitator, Northwest Regional Professional Development Program.
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