Friday, March 26, 2010

The Most Daring Education Reform of All

I just got done reading a terrific, thought provoking essay by Diana Senechal in the latest American Educator magazine. I urge everyone to give it a read.

Here is one paragraph from the article:
The classroom that the 21st-century-skills proponents envision-a place where students are collaborating, creating, and critiquing- may not be as promising as it seems. A video by the George Lucas Educational Foundation shows middle school students comparing two magazine photos in light of gender roles; other students filming a poetry project; third-graders watching a nature film and learning how the film was made; fourth-graders making animated short videos; seventh-graders analyzing newspaper photos of the war in Iraq; and other lessons and activities. These examples are supposed to show what students should be doing in class: discussing important issues, analyzing the information around them, and creating things. Near the end of the video, the narrator comments: "As courses and projects featuring elements of media literacy find their way into more and more classrooms, writing English might become just one of several forms of expression, along with graphics, cinema, and music, to be taught in a basic course called communication". This is where the losses begin.
The article dives deep into the realm of what is needed for all of our students. It's not just about the skill's that are being taught. We are not here to meet the "demands of the day" but of all time. Teaching one how to blog, how to edit video, and the like, do not make for better learners. Indeed, the fact that teaching these skills necessarily takes time away from core subjects means there is less of a focus on what it is that can truly make students successful.

The article goes on:
When the frenzy over 21st century skills passes—and it will—students will see that their opportunities depend largely on their knowledge. Many will graduate with blogging experience, but those who can write a strong essay on a Supreme Court case will be better prepared to enter the fields of history, law, or journalism. Many will have online science portfolios, but those who have studied calculus, read parts of Newton’s Principia, and can prove Kepler’s second law (for example) will be much better prepared to study physics at an advanced level. …The ability to make a YouTube video or podcast will mean little in the long run, if the other things are absent. Moreover, those technologies may be obsolete in another few years, but literature, science, languages, mathematics, history, music, art, and drama will stay.

Mediocre creativity abounds, as does false innovation. Creativity and innovation require knowledge and practice. If you do not teach the latter, you will not get great results in the former.

So what is the most daring education reform of all? I will encourage you to read the entire essay to find out.

Thanks for reading.