I stumbled upon this opinion post recently and was intrigued by the concept. I firmly believe that education is something that should not be standardized. Now, I’m not saying that all people shouldn’t learn a few standard things but I mean how they learn those things and what they do while at school should not be standardized. I was inspired a long time ago while in grad school after I saw the RSA animate video by Sir Ken Robinson. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you watch it below before continuing.
From both of these, as well as my experiences as a teacher in a public high school, I can see how aggregating children into the same age group and then putting them into the same subjects would not be the best method of educating each individual. The premise is that with the rise of technology and easy access to information students could potentially gain all requisite skills through learning just about anything they wanted. Students would have more responsibility over their own education and also gain more exposure to a lot of information that is currently not taught in schools. Now, I don’t believe this means schools would have no structure at all, but I do think that as it stands educational policy yields too much influence over a student’s education. With the coming Common Core as well as the myriad of standardized tests in education I believe that students lose passion and curiosity for learning.
I’m lucky because I teach an elective course at my school. Modern language is something that hasn’t yet been standardized so I still feel flexibility as a teacher to do things in class that my students want to do and enjoy doing. I want them to learn my subject matter, but more so than that I just want to see them become passionate about something and explore that topic on their own. I am saddened too often because I know there are some students who really like language and want to learn more while there are plenty of others who do not and wish they weren’t in the class, but because they’re all in the same room I have to teach somewhere to the middle so that everyone can succeed. Sure there are ways of differentiating and accomadating students, but the goals for each student are always the same.
I think I’m looking forward to a time when the role of teacher becomes more so academic guide than pure conveyor of knowledge. I want students to tell me what they want to learn, much as if they were deciding what electives to take and then I want to be able to and help them learn that. In this sense, schools are we know it would be more meeting places and social gatherings rather than instructional factories. Imagine a time when students learn on their own, research, solve problems, and then report back to you and to their peers on what they’ve discovered. Imagine when teachers get to work with each student individually and then put students into groups for certain projects and then watch as the students reverse the traditional paradigm and actually teach the teachers. Instead of what we think of as specific courses we could have scheduled times like “Individual Study”, “Group Study”, and “Discussion.” All of this could be fluid and include topics from across traditional grade levels and content areas. For example, I would be happy to incorporate subject lessons in Spanish so that students could conduct an experiment in Spanish. Or we could read various current events in Spanish and then relate them to U.S. events and talk about politics. The possibilities for learning are endless and there is potential to gain every necessary skill through meaningful and inspiring work that students design.
My favorite part of teaching is when I can have little moments like this in class and I do like to give my students options for this reason. The scenario I described above might sound too idyllic and I’m not saying it would be a perfect solution, but we already know what sticking to tradition gets us so why not try something new?
And shortly after writing this I found out about an actual school that is innovating in classroom organization and curriculum development. Big Picture Schools is what it's called and the article is about how to instill motivation in students, which the current system doesn't. It also talks about the goal of education is preparing students for the work force, but no job is organized like schools (same age, same information, same tasks for everyone). More information is in Daniel Pink's book “To Sell Is Human.”