School is the most influential institution in modern society. There are many ways to design an organization that promotes learning and the present industrial model of schooling (emphasis mine) is not one of them. There are some exciting counter examples, but they haven’t spread. The community, cultural institutions and business have to be involved. We need a broader base of change.
In the eyes of a child, the future is alive. Maybe children need to step forward as leaders.–Peter Senge
The industrial model is a model that I would argue has never worked very well, but it certainly does not work now and hasn’t for a long time. I have been thinking a lot about this in my work and as I begin to think more deeply regarding my dissertation research (which I am getting ready to start writing–finally!). This industrial model is something I have taken a stance on before and it really speaks to the idea that those in power–the ones who make the decisions–limit the knowledge given to our public school students. Walk through an average public school and an average independent school and you will be shocked by the differences. You will be shocked by the perceptions of the teachers and the type of tasks students are given. Often in our public schools (I know this is a generalization, but I have been in enough public schools to know it is often the norm) we see students seated quietly in desks, receiving information from teachers and then spitting the info back. I think this expectation of “teaching” is what made it really easy for me not to return to the classroom when I left to stay home with my children. I believe this expectation is what leads to so much teacher turnover in our urban districts and within the first 5 years of teaching.
I fought constantly against the idea that it was my job to impart all of my knowledge into the brains of my students only to have them tell it back to me in a formulaic essay of 5 paragraphs and one page. There is no thinking required. It sends the message that either a) we don’t think your ideas are good enough and b) the teacher is the only one with the answer.
This is why standardized testing is such a problem, it narrows even further who holds the answers and implies that there is actually only one right answer. Now in math it might be true that there is only one right answer–but there are many ways to come to that answer.
School should be about learning and the industrial model that is so prevalent in our nation is not about learning. The standardized tests don’t measure learning. Teachers often are not encouraged to have classrooms that are student-centered. I still remember one day when I was observed by the assistant superintendent and my principal. We were having a deep discussion about a theme in Tess of the d’urbervilles. The students were leading the discussion, I was just moderating a bit and keep them in the same topic space. It was a great learning moment for students as they were making connections to their own lives and experiences and problem solving. They then went on to write about the state of women’s rights and discuss how it effects their own life and future. These were some of the most powerful essays I ever had as a teacher, because they were authentic and while they were about a book, they were much more about the students.
The assistant sup left and told my principal she would come back later when I was teaching something.
That right there is the a huge part of the problem. My principal told the assistant sup that what I was doing was teaching and he was sorry she didn’t see it. (That principal didn’t last long in my district).
If students are going to learn how to create their own meanings and their own knowledge they have to be given a space to do that. All students (pre-school through college) are capable of doing great things and creating their own knowledge and meaning. If our education system focused more on teaching skills (as opposed to such a content focus) especially in the younger grades, we would see students begin to create their own learning opportunities and develop an understanding that what they know, think, and are curious about matters.
I understand the flip side with accountability and the ever growing focus on test scores and schools feeling the need to keep kids in school for 8+ hours a day to try to make up the learning gap. I think this focus on remediation is slightly misguided, especially in our early grades. Students can learn all of their subjects/skills in a meaningful interdisciplinary way.
I keep coming back to the idea of “meaningful.” School should be meaningful. Learning should be meaningful. And the industrial model we have makes learning meaningless. Learning something to “pass” a test has little value and meaning to kids who are curious about the world.
I certainly do not have all the answers, but I do know that our educational system has to change. Yet, we continue to do more of the same for more and longer days and wonder why are students aren’t doing better. We are perplexed when companies claim they can’t find workers they need. An industrial model of education, prepares kids for an industrial society. Last time I checked, industry is not a major employer in our country any more.
We have to change our inputs to get different outputs. I see it at my kids school–where the learning is theme based and the students determine the theme together with the teachers based on class interests. But this approach takes seasoned administrators, teachers who are able to relinquish control and a belief that what the students can contribute is important.
That is the crux. The industrial model places the most importance on the output. In other models, it is the student that is most important. Until we start talking about students, nothing is going to change.