Question this Answer

This is a response to a post by Jan Simson over at Inspiration Avenue.  His question, “how would you make the education system better?” is something that I have written about in a roundabout way over the last several months.  

I’ll start my restating that I think that what education needs is a reinvention.  Starting from a vacuum and determining the best way to teach kids.  When I think about this now I think about the times in our lives when we learn things without a teacher.  Take for instance walking.  Does anyone really ever teach us to walk or do we just eventually walk?  Sure there are encouraging words and opportunities to walk provided.  We reached out fora hand, leg or table for stability.  Someone buys us a decent pair of shoes to make sure that those first few steps go smoothly and if we’re lucky, someone sets us down on a nice, soft surface so that falling doesn’t hurt so much.  No one ever says, “Okay, in today’s lesson we are going to talk about feet.  Feet are your primary means of transportation.  Once we learn about feet we will go on to standard PK.1.2 and you will begin to understand how those feet attach to legs.” In there was definitely no side trip to the history of shoes and footwear around the world.

What if we took those same ideas and put them into practice in education?  Give students opportunities to learn about what interests them and encourage them along the way.  Provide students with the resources that they need to be successful in their endeavors.  And provide the support that they need along the way.

The truth is that in the 21st century there is no way that we will be able to teach all of the content that currently exists.  Our jobs must be to teach students how to access the content, think critically about what they find and to solve the problems that they encounter along the way. The fact is that the jobs that we believe we are preparing our students for won’t even exist in 10, 15 or 20 years.  The skills of thinking critically and solving problems will be necessary in any future job. The character traits of courage and perseverance won’t hurt either.

If I had to sum it up in a bulleted list:

  • Teach students to be problem solvers.  Really that’s why we learn to walk. To solve the problem of it taking so long to get to what we want.
  • Encourage students along the way.
  • Teach students to be critical thinkers.
  • Encourage them to take chances.
  • Provide them with the tools that they need to access content.