This rant has been brewing for a couple weeks, ever since I attended the 12th Annual North Country Symposium at SLU on April 7th. Well actually, it has been simmering below the surface for quite a while, but this experience brought it to the forefront of my thought processes.
The stated purpose of this years Symposium was to find ways our community could support our public schools in this time of economic challenge. Part of the morning consisted of presentations by Pat Brady, the Superintendent of Potsdam Central Schools and by Doug Huntley, the Superintendent of Queensbury Central Schools. Mr. Brady reinforced the dismal financial situation at Potsdam, but the numbers and formulas could easily be transferred to any North Country School. In fact, the local news has reported in just the last couple of days, local districts are cutting more staff and essential (but not mandated) programs.
Mr. Huntley presented creative programs and initiatives that his schools are implementing without any additional funding, because he recognizes that “one size does not fit all.” However, he still has to work within a system that forces that mode of operation on all students.
All of the presenters agreed on one thing: our students, largely, do not have the 'soft-skills' needed to become completely successful in the working world or in college. They all recognize that kids need to be able to think for themselves, collaborate with others, have time management skills, lose some of their 'entitlement' attitude, be able to think critically (opposite of following the herd), have communication skills (written, spoken and unspoken), and empathy. This is the part I have the most trouble with. If we know these are all essential skills, then why are we teaching them the opposite?
With the exception of those programs at Queensbury Schools (which isn't even local) and one program at the Potsdam High School, our system is failing a great number of kids. These are often brilliant kids who don't fit into that one profile we label “successful student”.
For the most part, the students who do well are the ones who have figured out how to jump through the hoops placed in front of them. They are not smarter; they have just figured out how to do what is required of them and do it with a minimum of fuss. They don't cause trouble or rock the boat. This is what they have learned in our “one size fits all” system. And, it is what I learned more than 35 years ago when I was attending school. After 'failing' fifth grade, I got really good at shutting up and giving people what they wanted. It also took me almost all of those 35 years to start unlearning many of those behaviors.
On the other side are the students, who don't fit in, who 'cause trouble', who 'think differently'; all of those square, oval, amoeba, or star-shaped pegs being forced into round holes. Where do they land in this scenario? Often in trouble, and many times feeling stupid or worthless.
It has been proven beyond any doubt that kids learn best in non-coercive, self-directed environments. These are the kids who acquire the soft skills. Youth who are able to make their own decisions about what they learn are the ones who retain the most information. It just makes sense! If you memorize material just for a test or because someone told you to, how much will you remember 5, 10 or 365 days from now? But if you memorize all of that stuff because you find it incredibly interesting, how much will you remember?
The goal of education should not be, standardizing our kids, rote memorization, or creating zombie like workers for a world that doesn't even exist anymore. We are more than that. Our kids should be learning how to learn. In tomorrow's world, what we know is not going to get us anything, except maybe winning a few games of Trivial Pursuit or if we are really lucky Jeopardy.
In the words of an awesome human being, scientist, and philosopher, Neil Degrasse Tyson, “Knowing how to think empowers you far beyond those who only know what to think.”
If you know a kid who would benefit from an educational experience that supports and encourages independence, authenticity, flexibility, autonomy, collaboration and fun, please tell them about Deep Root Center for Self-Directed Learning. We are here to provide all of that and MORE!
Abby Karos from Compass Centre in Ottawa was interviewed on the CBC show 180. Her interview starts 40 minutes into the show. http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/podcasts/the180_20140418_97185.mp3
AERO, Alternative Education Resource Organization, is an amazing resource for those of us who are participating in the self-directed learning movement and for those who want to learn more about it.
Their weekly Enews arrived in my inbox moments ago. The following as you will read was written by a 12 year old. I just had to share. For every piece of awesomeness that is published and recognized there are thousands of kids out there with amazing talents who don't get recognized.
A 12-Year-Old's Anti-Testing Poem
April used to be poetry month,
Where we'd learn about rhythm and rhyme,
But now that standardized tests have set in,
They tell us we just don't have time.
There was 'Poem in Your Pocket' day,
Where you share your unique voice,
But now creativity's gone away,
Now it's nothing but multiple choice.
They say tests show how smart you are,
And teach you all you know,
But how does filling in circles,
Help anyone learn and grow?
In class, when we could be thinking,
Learning how we can go far,
We're categorized by the grades we get,
Like those numbers are all we are.
- Eliya Ahmad, age 12 (written on back of ELA testing booklet, April 2, 2014)
Everywhere I turn, there is more evidence and support for self-directed, intrinsically motivated learning. There is enormous recognition that our world has changed drastically over the last 50 years and our educational system is not keeping up, in fact they are so buried, mired and just plain old stuck in the status quo, they may never be able to do the 180 that is required.
Yesterday, MacKenzie received a letter from Jonathan Lash, the President of Hampshire College, encouraging her to accept the scholarships she has been offered and attend Hampshire. His reasoning for choosing this alternative college can be condensed into five basic sentences:
Hampshire is a place where you own your education and are driven by your own
questions and ideas... Students who are driven by curiosity and excited by ideas
thrive at Hampshire...By the time you graduate from college you are likely to end
up in a job that hasn't yet been invented. You will have to adapt and reinvent your-
self to keep up with the accelerating pace of technological, social, and environment-
al change. Taking the opportunity to shape your own education is the best way to train
for that challenge.
This man obviously recognizes the importance of self-directed learning. He is not the only one. Our colleges and universities as well as employers are looking for, begging, and rewarding young people who can think for themselves. Those who are curious and alive and ready to seek out answers to their questions instead of having them served up on a plate. Why then are we as a society so dang caught up in preserving a system that does not work for so many of our kids?
Happenings at Deep Root:
This place was humming today. Bree had two or three projects in mind when she arrived with the fish and plants for our aquaponics project. Conagher and Hannah came in a few minutes later. Conagher had a bucket of K'nex (had to go look it up to spell it) and a couple of books. He was willing to offer his expertise in setting up the aquarium. Elwood arrived within minutes with his family's computer. The boys immediately got completely involved in “Mine Craft”. Which at first appearance looks like Legos in a virtual world. I guess they kind of behave like them too. You are building your world. Hannah spent time looking stuff up on our computer and Bree hot glued crayons on to cardboard for her first project. Andrew showed up to help Elwood get Linux on the codged together computer and talk “shop.” Well, he got caught up in Mine Craft and helped them find another version and get that downloaded.
The whole day was a blur of activity and conversation. We took time out to walk to the Post Office and the Flea Market across the road. Bree wanted to find materials for future projects. But, we all came away with something. I actually had to walk back across the street to get my car. We found an awesome stand for the fish tank. Elwood found a record that he will be melting and turning into a bowl (at his house, thank goodness we don't have an oven here.); Hannah found a Katona (Japanese sword), well she didn't buy it, but was working on her Mom as they were walking out the door this afternoon. And Bree, the one who started the whole expedition came away with 2 bags full of assorted items for 10.00. It was impressive to watch her add everything up in her head to make sure she had enough money. Meanwhile the fish are acclimating to their new home (we hope) and I plan on vacuuming the floor when I finish writing this.
We will be open Wednesday-Friday. We are excited to announce: Karen Wells will be here all three days to offer 2 hour Theater Workshops. Please make sure anyone who may be interested knows about this opportunity.
Don't miss a post!
Sign-up here to get the DRC Blog delivered to your inbox.