So what does this video mean? How does it apply to me?
I think every teacher in America wishes they were in charge for the day. In a way, I do to. Ken's talk speaks to this fundamental commonality by recommending that the American education system cease it's top down approach to compulsory education. He then identifies the stupidity behind standardized testing and rounds it out with observations on the lack of "fun" in schools.
What are the facts, though? From the talk:
- Dropout rates are 60% in some areas & 80% among Native Americans
- America spends more money than other countries on education
- Many initiatives are started (many well-meaning) every year than every other country
- The US has generally smaller class sizes.
In the Lower Yukon School District:
- With the new ASPI scoring system, LYSD averages 55.2, making us 52nd of 54 districts in Alaska
- 60% of Alaska Native students statewide can pass the HSGQE (W) and 41% of limited English (which represents many of our students).
- Only about 55% of Alaska Native students will graduate.
So why is this happening?
Robinson points out 3 Principles of which human life flourishes. We are:
- Naturally different and diverse - every human being is different and unique. We have our own combinations of learning styles, find interests in differing subject matter, and physical preferences for optimal times and places to focus our attention. In the USA, though, we find achievement in focused areas. We celebrate conformity to a narrow spectrum of skills. We practice teaching and testing, not teaching and learning!
- Inherently creative - Children will naturally draw, build, sing, and dance, so why don't we let them? I can tell you from experience that wearing uniforms to school and eliminating arts and humanities extinguishes creativity faster than "experts" can possibly measure.
- Curiosity - Children (and even a few adults who survive American education) are imaginative, interested in the world around them, and love to learn. At some point we teach this out of kids by encouraging the same answers on worksheets and right answers from the textbook.
Here are my thoughts on how to change this. Many have to do with technology, but understand that I am a proponent of sound pedagogy and not a tech-solves-everything guy...
First, I have to say that if you want to engage a young person (or any person for that matter), ask them what they like to do. It's not that hard. Simple research will show that kids like video games, electronic devices, and online tools. Gamification efforts to make education more fun and tap into new learning methodologies are gaining momentum worldwide. I personally am learning spanish from Duolingo (which I highly recommend). Can we deny the efficacy of Dora or Blue's Clues or the ability of a third grader to memorize every single line from Despicable Me? I say put a computer or mobile device in the hands of every child, design learning games complete with levelized growth, in-game socialization, and alignment to standards and just see what happens!
Now let's talk about teachers. Professional development is an investment not an expense. As a former trainer and professional development specialist, I feel as though I have a unique understanding of the subject. The bottom line is that the only change that will affect students, teaching, and learning is... drum roll... classroom level teaching! District initiatives, federal programs, and state coaches are all beneficial in their own ways, don't get me wrong; but if you actually want to change teaching, change the teacher. I'm not saying swap them out. On the contrary, I say invest heavily in the existing teaching population. No one knows their students better than the classroom teacher and no one is in a better position to help them succeed.
My next thoughts are a doozy for Alaska. Central governments strip local experts of the authority to adapt and react to individual needs. Autonomy in rural Alaska has always been a touchy subject. Impositions of the federal and state government on the tribal entities are older than statehood (click here for more info). Granting more authority to the REAA could yield results, yes, but to what end. The what if's are astounding. Could the infusion of culture into the curriculum be the answer to student engagement? What if the use of technology enabled students and teachers to catalog, capture, and share cultural experiences, language, and lifestyles? I admit there could be serious shortcomings if the wrong leadership failed to capitalize on the opportunity. Is it worth a try? Could it really be much worse?
Okay, so as a final thought, what if we threw out everything we knew about "schools" in general?