After 17 years of teaching in varied higher ed environments, I am firmly convinced that “what is wrong with my students” reflects what is wrong with their K-12 experience. I have been lucky enough to teach many creative, gifted and capable students along with a giant group of persons attending college because it is the logical next step after K-12. Both groups are critical for our economic and sustainable future. Neither group is inspired by their education, considering it a necessary drudgery that must be endured until they are credentialed enough to “get a job.”
The problem is not the students; it is our model. It lacks real experiences and practicality in helping people prepare for the “designed future.” In order to engage students experientially at the university level, it is necessary that they have independently driven learning experiences at the K-12 level to draw upon. Unfortunately, for all but a handful of my 12,000+ undergraduate students, pragmatic, experiential learning opportunities were either largely absent or too few in number to teach the skills necessary for independent learning and project management.
This is not an indictment of the already overburdened public education system, but a comment on the model that we seem unable, or unwilling, to change. Our public schools are still using the same teaching methodologies and philosophies that were part and parcel of the standardization of American education in the 1938-1960 era. Producing workers for an industrial economy dictates the practices that we are all familiar with as basic elements of formal education: factory-like social policies, uniform (quasi-military) style discipline, one-size-fits-all training and mass testing in order to rank the “candidates” for graduation. We are preparing our children for a world that no longer exists. We are no longer in an industrial economy, but rather in a global, technology infused, specialized economy with strong industrial bases scattered about the planet.
The old pedagogic model requires a refurbishment, or tear-down, in order to experience renewal. The dispiriting trend since the 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, has been to further regiment and standardize curriculum at the expense of hands-on learning in the arts, crafts, humanities and liberal arts. There has also been a deliberate turn away from pragmatic design along with vocational/technical training, another symptom that we have become a culture of passive consumers rather than makers, innovators and doers. Educating “passive consumers” rather than producers is the wrong direction for an economically healthy and sustainable future. Significant regional and local implications will follow if we cannot remake the K-12 schools.
The following studio model offers a promising way forward. Please watch the entire 6 minute video in order to fully appreciate this worthwhile proposition for the transformation of education.