I never let my schooling interfere with my education.
Education Reform won’t succeed until schools do what computers can’t.
Because Sara was home sick for a week in October of her eighth grade year, her parents bought software so that she could learn algebra at home. When she got back to school she discovered that she was ahead of the class. When she told her parents, they said, “Well, good. That gives you more time to spend on other homework,” which she did, but she didn’t stop taking her online course in algebra. She liked it.
In class, since she was so far ahead of what her teacher, Karen, was teaching, algebra class was review for her. This was okay for a while, but before long, the difference between Sara’s proficiency and the rest of the class made Karen uncomfortable. She told Sara to stop learning on her computer to let the class catch up with her. But Sara was having too much fun zooming through algebra. By the end of the month Sara was up to quadratic equations and had essentially completed the course that her class was only just beginning.
But Karen was an educator. Rather than maintain her stand that Sara should stop learning at home, Karen saw an opportunity to let Sara exercise more leadership in the class. In large group instruction, Sara could sometimes explain things differently. In cooperative learning groups Sara was particularly helpful getting some students to see things a different way and to explain why one approach to a problem was better than another. Thus Sara worked on her social and leadership skills, developed friendships, and continued to learn. (Just because you have learned to solve two linear equations by substitution, doesn’t mean you have mastered it). Sara practiced her math, had fun doing it, and got an education at the same time. Sara’s teacher cared about the whole Sara.
Educators know that their core business is not their subject but the characters in their care. Karen saw algebra as a vehicle for Sara to develop her character.
Tony Wagner, Ellen Galinsky, Paul Tough, Angela Duckworth are only a few of the more recent and popular researchers who remind us of what we actually already know; i.e. that the “soft,” “non-cognitive skills” are at least as important for success as academics–and are certainly way more important when it comes to happiness. In fact, these “21st century learning skills” are actually harder and more “cognitive” than algebra. Algebra was Karen’s passion, but her love was her students, and the students felt that love, because it was obvious that she loved them as complex learners, respected their uniqueness, and cared more about them as people than as receptacles for content.
What can schools do that software can’t?
Educational reforms have failed for decades because they miss the point. The school industry needs to rediscover its core business. Taking a chapter out of Jim Collins’ Good to Great our society needs to ask, “What can schools do that software can’t?”
School is a place where people come together to learn those things that are best learned in community. Traditionally, it was understood that the business of school was to deliver the 3R’s using the authority of the teacher to make students work. But really! Is that the highest and best use of that most valuable resource, the teacher? Making kids do stuff?
What can schools do that books, technology and software can’t do? They can create learning communities where the interactions among students cause them to develop fully as humans. They can bring together great teachers who learn from one another in the infinitely difficult job of each day rededicating themselves to those mysterious creatures: their students.
The 3C’s: Collaborating, Creating and Contributing
Studying history improved my mind, but it did so better when I engaged others in conversation about what I thought I was learning. Furthermore, I didn’t really know much until I started creating lessons and teaching them to eighth graders. That’s when the character-building started—my character more than anyone else’s.
Karen saw the whole Sara, believed in her and led her genius farther into the world by creating the conditions for fulfilling her character. Now, that’s a worthy mission, and it’s usually what draws teachers to the profession and keeps them challenged, satisfied and showing up. Great teachers have always known that their topics are mere vehicles for learning what is really important in life. Reforms will keep failing until we come to this deeper understanding of the core business of education.
Yes, school reform has been going on since Mark Twain’s day. But school can only be an education when the educators understand that the 3R’s are the vehicle for the 3C’s: Collaborating, Creating and Contributing.
“A teacher that can be replaced by a machine should be.”