The talk below demonstrates another way to think about the failing American education system. Sir Ken Robinson gives an articulate presentation regarding the futility of one-size-fits-all education programs. I especially like his comparison of No Child Left Behind with much more successful European approaches. We send our kids into buildings for 6.5 hours/day for 180 days/year (1,080 hours, assuming a 30 minute recess) to spend the vast majority of their time doing “low grade clerical work” and then wonder why they cannot compete on an international level. In the process we sacrifice their love of learning and remove professional judgement from those who are charged with their learning
By the time I encounter the students in college, most of their joy and curiosity has vanished; instead they ask me for clear directives on the “low grade clerical assignments” and disdain any chance at experiential learning because it is not “clear and direct.” Our college students are years behind their foreign counterparts who are also in my classes. Worse yet the American students have the view that education is the drudgery they must endure in order to obtain certifications that make their lives better whilst my foreign students know that education can transform their lives by teaching them to see opportunities and projects as a chance to experiment with innovation. It is not hard to figure out who the innovators of the future will be and to discern that Americans are at the bottom of the pile.
If you are a parent or care for a school-aged child, I encourage you to watch this video.
Hackschooling is a new term that proponents of democratic education are using to describe alternate modes of K-12 schooling. For examples see the Sudbury Valley Day School or the best summary of the new approach as outlined by 13 year-old Logan LaPlante. Logan gives me hope for the future, but most kids do not because they are trapped in our long dead public schools. Big thanks to Social Consciousness for posting this initially.
Check out Logan’s TEDx talk and then think about similar 13 year olds that you know.
It is rare to meet an articulate 13 year old from the public school system, even more rare at the college level. After teaching for 17 years at the college level, I lament that those ever important K-12 years are lost as we imprison our kids in dead educational institutions. Their fatal wound is most aptly characterized by two acronyms: NCLB and AYP, the stalwarts of American dysfunction in education.
Our schools are dead because we do not pursue best practices in curriculum design, individualized learning, technology or teacher recruitment/retention. We are so far behind the routine practices of the top ten countries that I doubt we will ever catch up. To be clear the top ten countries educate their children for creativity, happiness, innovation and proficiency in a wide-range of subjects. Think about this: 60-80% of American college students require remedial courses to teach material that was originally presented at the 6th grade level. In my own experience, American students were the least creative, poor critical thinkers and totally unprepared to perform well in college because of the lack of critical preparation in K-12 schools.
The problems are numerous. First, professionals creating curriculum in the United States lack a realistic understanding of learning research, best practices and individualized learning/assessment plans. Most have never taught in the classroom at all. Yet, these same individuals often have degrees in curriculum design with a total lack of teaching experience. That’s right; they never worked in a classroom and cannot fathom the myriad of learning styles and individuals that make up a learning community. They design content only without understanding how teachers, students and content work together.
The Finnish system seems ideal, if only someone in a position to influence American education had classroom experience, perhaps we too could implement a similar model. However, as long as we cling to “core curriculum,” deny teachers autonomy, trap students in classrooms where surviving until retirement is the sole motivator for teachers, then our kids are doomed to a third world future via the pursuit of below average mediocrity in education.
The point: we could be the best, but we have settled for “17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math on a respected exam known as the Programme for International Student Assessment. Also known as PISA. The test is given to a representative sample of 15-year-olds in participating developed countries every three years. In 2009, Finland’s students scored third in reading, sixth in math and second in science out of 65 countries that participated in the exam.”1
We are failing our kids miserably where real education counts. The people to blame: not the teachers, but the administrators and politicians who have zero understanding of real education, but yet send their kids to private schools that resemble the Finnish model.