(In which I ramble on about the demise of public school as we know it, sound generally crazy while talking about my theory of evolutionary shifts, and quote a high school teacher who is my new BFF but doesn’t know it yet.)
Hubby and I watched a really fascinating program on PBS called “Growing Up Online“, a Frontline show about what it’s like to be a part of the first generation who has grown up totally involved and using technology such as MySpace, Facebook, the Internet, video games, instant messaging, etc.
There are four different ‘sections’ in the show…each highlighting something different–cyber bullying (that’s a sad one), online exploitation, online communities, and how the technology is changing the classroom.
Much like video killed the radio star, watching this made it apparent that the Internet has killed traditional, sit-at-your-desk-and-watch-a-teacher-lecture, school. For those people out there who see this as a step backwards, I present Rose Porpora who bemoans the fact that kids can’t focus or think as in depth as she’d like while reading Shakespeare in freshman English Class.
For those of you out there who see this as a step in the right direction– a validation that finally, someone is listening to all these right brain thinkers–I present Steve Maher, whom I am about to quote rather liberally.
Frontline took a camera crew into his class, where each student had a computer on their desk. He taught from an interactive whiteboard thingy that I am totally crushing on. The classroom was wired for internet and the kids were engaged and interested.
They contrasted his classroom with Rose Porpora’s, which was set up much more traditionally…semi circle chair arrangement, kids with books and notebooks open, with her leading the discussion. I liked her. She has dedicated 30 + years of her life to sharing her passion for literature with high school kids–that qualifies her for being knighted, as far as I’m concerned. But even she agreed that her time has come and gone, and the new progressive style of teaching/learning just isn’t what she signed on for.
But, back to Steve. Frontline asked him some questions, like this:
How do you regard the mass of teachers who still teach in traditional ways?
Well, if you think about education in general, that is something that I am really concerned about, because if teachers are preparing students for an industrial age, they’re doing a great disservice to the students. And I don’t know how they manage their classrooms, because if you think about the media environment that an average American teenager lives in, to walk into a classroom that doesn’t have any of that media must be like walking into a desert. To have the least media-rich time of their day to be the time when they’re supposed to be engaged and involved with learning seems to be almost a crime, because you have these tools out there and they could be used easily. …This world is changing. If the business world is operating with technology, … education has to change, too. You wouldn’t expect it not to change.
This is pretty much the conclusion I’ve come to, as well, but there is so much resistance to this kind of change…both from teachers and parents alike. Many people consider change of this sort as ‘giving in’ to an inferior cultural norm…as if multimedia is to blame for ADD/dyslexia/right brain thinkers.
I’ve never really said what I’m about to say to any but a few people, because it makes me sound a little radical, but I’ll put it all out there. I believe all these so called ‘learning differences’, and creative kids who enjoy video games, TV, graphic novels but who struggle in school, are really just kids at the front of an evolutionary shift from an auditory society to a visual society…a shift that is producing these kinds of thinkers from birth, at an astonishing rate. That’s my two cents, anyway.
Frontline asked Steve about the ease at which current students can google a subject and plagarize a paper from so many different subjects.
The way I deal with cheating (from online sources) in a history class is to get rid of things like a term paper, like a research paper, where they go out, gather a bunch of encyclopedic information and then reproduce that in a report. That almost begs to be cheated. There’s no life in that; there’s no purpose in that. The better way to do it is to take something and say ‘you have to do something more with it’. For instance, don’t report to me the basic events of the Cold War; prove to me that the USA was responsible for the beginning of the Cold War. And then I’d have another group of students prove to me that the USSR is responsible for the beginning of the Cold War, and then I would have them attack each other’s sources. … Then you have a dialogue back and forth, and … there’s no cheating involved with that.
I probably would have liked high school a lot more had I been given this kind of assignment, rather than the basic ‘memorize and report’ standard. This is a strength of unschooling, to me. Rather than focus on memorizing, so much of our day is spent talking, debating, internalizing and dialoguing.
I almost stopped my post right here, but there are a few things written in the interview that never made it on air and I can’t possibly leave them out. The interviewer brings up that Steve has young kids in Elementary school, and asks him how he (Steve) feels their education is going…
My children spent a lot of time with handwriting. … My opinion, which I have to keep sort of quiet, is that you might as well teach them horseback riding. It’s a skill they’re not going to need. No one is writing now; we do jot things down, but it’s not something that we have to know. …
My sons have an assignment where they have to copy 20 words two times each, and they despise it because it’s pure drudgery. To me it seems almost like torture. I don’t know what they’re getting out of that. I know it works on spelling, but I wonder if that sort of spelling skill is something that they will really need. …
You don’t think spelling is important?
I think spelling is important, but I don’t think it is something that should be the main focus, to say, OK, we’re going to take a good part of our elementary school education and spend a lot of time having kids recite over and over again a batch of letters in a certain order.
Because there is more stuff that they have to do. There’s a tool that they can use to check their spelling, and they should be able to use that tool. So their spelling skills should be developed enough that the tool will solve the problem for them. …
This makes me want to sit down, write him a ‘Thank You for saying that out loud’ letter, spray it with perfume, and kiss it with my pinkest lipstick. Seriously. Because after saying this precise thing for the 4 years Naturalist was in school and being raked over the coals for even suggesting such a thing, it’s nice to hear it from a respected, successful teacher.
I know that lots of people just don’t get that, and find it a ridiculous affront to education, but I completely agree that elementary education needs to be about more than recitation and copying.
If you listen to the Department of Education, they’ll say that seven of the top 10 jobs in the year 2010 didn’t exist in 2004. So we’re preparing our kids for industries that don’t exist yet, and we’re preparing for kids to use technologies that haven’t been invented yet. That’s one of the reasons I talk about the difference between learning content and learning skills, and why there is much more of a need to teach skills, because if we can teach a student how to learn, then they can adapt to these things as they’re changing. If we’re going to teach them just content that is static, they’re not going to have the flexibility that we’re going to need. And if you talk about the global marketplace, we’re in deep trouble if we don’t know how to do that.
And this, my friends, is why he’s my new BFF. And this is also why I have let go of quite a bit of my anxiety about unschooling. It is FOR SURE that the learning content in unschooling is radically different from what other kids are getting at school. But the skills! The skills! The skills! My kids are learning how to learn. And even better, they are learning that they love to learn! This is the basic, but all important principle of unschooling. Helping kids learn to learn with passion, exuberance, dedication, and enthusiasm. Things that my kids weren’t getting in the current public school system.
The entire show is available to view here, and I’d highly recommend it.!