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Learning at its Best

Utter Failure of Original Intent

Please don’t think this unfair, but our schools do not know how to adapt to the ever-changing needs of learners.  Sure, some teachers are exceptionally dedicated.  And, yes, schools continue, in a round about way, to meet their basic intent.  Basic intent?  What is that?  Ask Catherine the Great.  Science, English, math, social studies, and foreign languages form the basis of a national system designed expressly to produce — are you tired of hearing it yet? — good soldiers who follow orders, good factory assembly-line workers who gladly perform repetitive, mundane tasks, and good citizens who compliantly pay their taxes and never (ok, almost never) question authority.  The implication, of course, is that anyone not living within these boundaries is somehow bad.

To what end?  We have morphed into a one-size-fits-all world of schooling, strongly focused on teaching rather than learning, where standards that typically stifle creativity and innovation are the norm.  Rote memorization and the quest for high test scores rule the day, while young people deeply passionate about learning are rarely, as a rule, encouraged to fully develop innate intelligence and hone critical thinking skills.

As the system wallows in the deep, despairing pit of inertia, many of those young people are saying “Enough, already!” to the status quo.  They are walking out, and walking on.  Either our system of education will transform (reform is utterly ineffective), or our children will opt out.  A great many are doing so already.  Consider the explosive growth of the homeschool/unschool movement, e-schools, and e-learning via the internet.

What to do?  Get rid of high schools.  Get over it.  Fourteen-year-old homeschoolers are flourishing in community colleges.  Everywhere else, TRANSFORM!  Put the learner in charge of, well, their learning.  Begin by getting rid of the lecture.  At best, only 20% of learners are auditory.  At the same time, make haste to get back to community.  And get back to the arts.  Use the shells of former high schools to create community centers for the arts.  Help our young people find — and reimagine — the big picture.  Meet their need for expression with gusto (writing centers, music centers, gaming houses, production studios)!  Then, let them ship (i.e., let young people lead and execute far-reaching, world-changing projects, become nonprofit directors, produce music and movies, solve world hunger, etc.)!

What else can we do?  Lose the administration apparatus and, yes, rid our society of federal and state meddling in the form of education departments.  Tell the schools of education to forego the big bucks and forge ahead (else the young people will forge ahead without them and there will be no bucks).  We don’t need good soldiers, good workers, and good citizens.  We need an end to education (i.e., drawing from that which is already known), we need to move away from processes (i.e., strategic planning and the like), and we need to move toward creative innovation, strategic intuition, and perception.  Staff, teachers, and administrators will need to shed their ego, relinquish their titles and their overrated positional authority as ‘adults,’ and climb out of their rigid, numbing routines to become co-learners, accomplices in discovery; it is not enough to be mentors and coaches, even very good mentors and coaches.

Bottom line: Be the bridge our young people need to escape the boredom of buildings, boundaries, borders, and beliefs so they may discover breakthroughs and new beginnings!



3 thoughts on “Utter Failure of Original Intent

  1. Jack, welcome!

    Is there a piece of self-adovacy that’s non-negotiable curriculum, in that it can’t be lost – all kids should experience it?

    I’m thinking of kids (and adults) stuck in those wallows: where do we start – with the gutting of high schools and their rebirth as studios, with political action to support kids in saying “Enough!”, or with something else entirely or a combination of somethings?

    And how should we do that?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | December 30, 2011, 2:46 pm
  2. Innovation is the new intent. The technology shift is forcing us to reconsider the original one that schools and teachers are the holders of all the knowledge. To continue teaching in the old paradigm is making me feel a bit foolsh at this point. Maybe the original intent is not broken, it’s just outdated and irrelevant. It served its purpose once but no longer. The world changes, as should we if we are to lead our students toward enlightenment, creativity and innovation. In real life, when something is no longer necessary or working as it was intended to do, we just let it go and allow it to naturally step aside for whatever is more user friendly and purposeful for us. Read Now You See It to get a great perspective of what’s going on. We are so far off the grid, it’s not even funny. Educators, wise up. Read. Learn. Quit drinking the reform kool aide. Reforming the same old material and ideas is a waste of time and boring. This is my last year of teaching. I still love the process, the kids, the satisfaction of my work, but I cannot tolerate any more nonsense. It’s painful that some teachers just accept things without question and then use the angst to complain and ruin the learning for kids by being so intolerant, cranky and unhappy. Too many profit from education as it is now formatted. Put a computer at each desk, empower teachers with the courage and ability to transform learning and just watch what happens. The human brain is designed to LEARN. When it is allowed to do it without barriers and irrational tasks, learning will flourish. Takes a lot of courage to be the sage on the stage of learning. We have been convinced by conformity that we are so integral in the learning process, that without us, what would a child do? Relevant, mindful tasks about big knowledge will activate student learning better than any dusty textbook or leacture. Cast off the old. Dare to be the kind of teacher we ALL wish to be.

    Posted by Sandy | December 30, 2011, 8:35 pm
  3. Hi, Chad, thank you for inviting me (and being patient with me).

    Sandy, your comments resonate vibrantly with me. Thank you for sharing them!

    For me, Chad, self-advocacy is the point. We need to respond to the needs, interests, and desires made known by each and every learner in our midst on an individual basis. From there, I think it’s really a very small step to where we truly need to be: community. By that, I mean the bridge to their future doesn’t rest with more schooling (not even this thing we call college), it rests with the people, ideals, philosophies, and cultures of their communities. The structure has never changed; it is one of acceptance. Each learner is accepted into their community by virtue of wanting to be part of it (the Coop is no exception). The learning that takes place happens through the life one lives, and it rests squarely on the timeless, unwavering pillars of love, respect, courage, honesty, humility, truth, and wisdom.

    To think a learning plan (even with clear goals) is what’s somehow needed to develop and communicate shared understanding among learners (even if they are not disenfranchised) misses the point. Who’s ‘understanding’ are we talking about? And to what effect, especially for the communities these learners live in? Why must the system insist on taking learners out of their culture to ‘teach’ them when there is so much they can learn in the midst of people they grew up with? I think all of us have seen or heard of examples where such practices fail our learners time and time again: American Indians, the ghettos, south central LA, the boroughs, and Appalachia, among others. After all, what does student achievement look like, who gets to decide, and what does it have to do with learning if the learner was not intimately involved? Moreover, why must one student’s achievement look anything like the next just because they happen to be the same age, live in the same district, and/or share a similar socio-economic status?

    If I were to suggest a non-negotiable curriculum as part of every learner’s self-expression, I’d have to begin by throwing out anything designed to make learners ‘productive’ soldiers, workers, or citizens, then I’d move away from anything that assigns them to some kind pecking order (e.g., grades, grade levels, student governments, organized sports). I’d make things like Science, English, math, social studies, and other ‘foreign’ languages purely optional, and I’d have to remove the bells (aka, schedule) from their school day. In truth, I’d probably remove the school day as we know it, favoring instead to expose more and teach less by returning their community culture to the heart of their learning (in whatever form that needs to take). It is here, and only here, where they will find what matters most in their life and in their learning, the intangibles: more examples of compassion from people they know and respect, more empathy, more opportunities to serve (and lead) among the people they love, more storytelling to keep their culture alive and vibrant, more spontaneity, more respect, more courage, more truth, a greater sensitivity to others and to other cultures, and a greater humility.

    How do we do it? Sandy says, “Cast off the old. Dare to be the kind of teacher we ALL wish to be.” I couldn’t agree more. Learning belongs to the learner. Figuratively, we give learners the keys to the car! Then we put them in the driver’s seat. We point out the tight turns, sheer cliffs, and steep grades. We let them know what guardrails look like and why they are important. We let them know signs will be posted along the way to help them make informed decisions. If they run into difficulties, we make sure they have a phone and the number to AAA knowing that, as a community, someone is always available for them. Along the way, we serve as their trusted travel guide, anxious to hear about every new discovery that awaits them just beyond the next bend in the road.

    Posted by @DrJackKing | December 30, 2011, 11:02 pm

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