If there is one thing I have learned throughout the course of this semester in this literacy class, it is that there is a lot of work to be done on our nation’s public school systems if we are to really prepare our students for adult life. If I were to sit down and prepare a list of all the things we need to change or improve upon in our schools it may take me a full day…perhaps longer. There are thousands of articles that offer a list of these things that require improvement or even complete deletion and some of these articles will even go into how we can fix some of these issues. Will Richardson is one of the many authors who have approached this topic and gotten at the heart of the beast.
Richardson makes good use of the metaphor about the elephant in the room when he discusses the top nine problems with our educational system. If you have time to read through the entire article, I highly recommend it. All nine of the points he makes are very evident today and I actually see much of this happening in my own children’s education unfortunately. One of the most important points in the article for me is that the most meaningful and long-lasting learning comes from interaction from others. While this may not seem like a novel idea, it is one that is rarely acted upon in public schools in America. When we talk about learning through interactions with others we are referring to not only hands-on learning but also to modeling and through being exposed to and considering the perspectives of others. This kind of learning cannot occur by simple lecture in a classroom. It must take place through group activities and projects and through problem-solving exercises. Some things that can be utilized in bringing this change about are project-based learning, problem-based learning, and even allowing students free learning time in which they are allowed to choose any reasonable topic and learn about it through different means. This could be something similar to an independent learning project.
The second point Richardson talks about that really strikes a chord with me is that our public school system is not preparing our children to be active, productive, successful citizens of the 21st century. Students today are learning nearly the same things they learned in school 100 plus years ago. Experts say that in order to meet their full potential in their adult lives today, they need to learn to be proficient at certain skills such as collaborating with others, being able to be critical thinkers, having the ability to create new ideas and information, and knowing how to adapt to changing technology. However, if you observe a typical primary school class you will find that the emphasis is on core curriculum. Much of the same kind of environment can be seen in today’s classroom that would have been viewed in a classroom of 100 years ago. In order to make this change we need to work on adding these areas into the curriculum itself as well as into the approved pedagogies and by changing the way we educate our educators.
Finally, Richardson points out that grades have become more important than learning to parents, students, and teachers. If I had to reflect on my past some of the most important things I have learned have not been the things I’ve taken tests on and I believe most people would agree to this. So, why is it that we test and test and test our students and then slap a label on them to say whether they’ve mastered that subject or failed? I feel that a student who has an average grade of a C who raises his gpa to a B has done more work than an A student who remains an A student throughout the quarter. The only way to change this way of thinking will be through legislation. It is due to government funding which places entirely too much emphasis on standardized testing and so-called “measurable objectives” and not enough emphasis on actual learning that our students feel that they cannot be successful adults unless they have perfect grades. It is our duty as educators to challenge the system in order to create positive change within it.