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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Schools can't teach most skills. They never have, and never will. Now what?

Schools just can't teach leadership. They can't teach project management. They can't teach stewardship. They can't teach innovation. They just can't. They never have, and never will.

When politicians or other leaders gather around in committees and ask,"what skills should schools be teaching?" they have already lost. They are asking a flawed question that will inevitably lead to incredibly expensive failure.

It is not a matter of will, or budget, or priorities. Schools, with masses of dropped-off children consuming lectures, writing papers, and taking tests, can only teach basic and rote skills at best. They are passable at developing "learning to know" skills, and abysmal at "learning to do" skills. This is as true of private schools and charter schools as public schools.

The greatest tragedy is that the very skills purported to be desired in the next generation of citizens, the so-called 21st Century Skills, are so much better developed in programs outside of school (see list here). Truly, more school for most students literally means less education. Or said another way: if schools don't work, why would more school work?

Once again, if the national question is framed as, "what skills should schools be teaching?" then we are lost. The right question is instead, "what skills do our next generation of citizens need, of those what have schools proven to be good at developing, and then how do we fill in the significant gaps?"

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Throughout one’s life, everyone unschools most of the time

When a doctor finds an interesting condition in a patient, he or she does not sign up for a class that covers the material, runs six weeks, and starts next fall.

When faced with an environmental crisis, the politician does not apply to a prestigious university’s masters program.

When a person in charge of a non-profit organization sees an opportunity in a foreign county, the first instinct is not to review old class notes.

All people unschool to learn most of their knowledge during most of their lives. The only variables are how well do they do it, and when do they start.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What a person learns in a classroom is how to be a person in a classroom

The teacher can be talking about history or math. But what students in a traditional classroom are learning is how to be students in a classroom.

And they are learning it very well. Students are given ample opportunity to practice this skill in a variety of settings and contexts. As if they were playing a rigorously designed (albeit it drab) computer game, students in school systems over the course of a decade are put in ever more challenging situations of sitting in a classroom.

They are learning how to take notes. They are learning how to surreptitiously communicate with peers. They are learning how to ask questions to endear themselves.

It is impressive, at one level that we spend billions on this perfect, practice-based environment to build and hone children’s abilities to sit in classrooms. And we have even built a reward structure to praise those people who can sit in classrooms better than anyone else. We let them run our planet.

However, given this model is economically running us into the ground, and obesity is a global epidemic, it may be time to collectively build and reward different skills. Learning is a full contact sport. To learn something new, a student has to do something new, and often be some where new.

Rather than treating those who want to do something as troublemakers to be fixed, we need to recognize that these people will be the engines of our improvements in standard of living. And, in fact, they always have been.