Posts Tagged ‘school reform’
Schooling and institutionalized education have become removed from true, instinctual, and human/humane learning. Humans have been learning since the beginning of time with major discoveries and innovations historically and currently emerging in spite of school. This is the biggest problem I have with schools – most are contrived and coercive and do not honor the innate human need and desire to learn, discover, and evolve.
If order to fully understand the purpose of school, the history of its evolution as an institution needs to be understood. What follows is part of A Brief History of Education in the Freedom to Learn series published in Psychology Today:
If we want to understand why standard schools are what they are, we have to abandon the idea that they are products of logical necessity or scientific insight. They are, instead, products of history. Schooling, as it exists today, only makes sense if we view it from a historical perspective.
Adults in hunter-gatherer cultures allowed children almost unlimited freedom to play and explore on their own because they recognized that those activities are children’s natural ways of learning. With the rise of agriculture, and later of industry, children became forced laborers. Play and exploration were suppressed. With larger families, children had to work in the fields to help feed their younger siblings, or they had to work at home to help care for those siblings. Children’s lives changed gradually from the free pursuit of their own interests to increasingly more time spent at work that was required to serve the rest of the family.
As industry progressed and became somewhat more automated, the need for child labor declined in some parts of the world. The idea began to spread that childhood should be a time for learning, and schools for children were developed as places of learning. The idea and practice of universal, compulsory public education developed gradually in Europe, from the early 16th century on into the 19th. In America, in the mid 17th century, Massachusetts became the first colony to mandate schooling, the clearly stated purpose of which was to turn children into good Puritans.
Employers in industry saw schooling as a way to create better workers. To them, the most crucial lessons were punctuality, following directions, tolerance for long hours of tedious work, and a minimal ability to read and write. From their point of view (though they may not have put it this way), the duller the subjects taught in schools the better.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, public schooling gradually evolved toward what we all recognize today as conventional schooling. The methods of discipline became more humane, or at least less corporal; the lessons became more secular; the curriculum expanded, as knowledge expanded, to include an ever-growing list of subjects; and the number of hours, days, and years of compulsory schooling increased continuously. School gradually replaced fieldwork, factory work, and domestic chores as the child’s primary job.
Schools today are much less harsh than they were, but certain premises about the nature of learning remain unchanged: Learning is hard work; it is something that children must be forced to do, not something that will happen naturally through children’s self-chosen activities. The specific lessons that children must learn are determined by professional educators, not by children, so education today is still, as much as ever, a matter of inculcation
From the Time Magazine article, How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century
There’s a dark little joke exchanged by educators with a dissident streak: Rip Van Winkle awakens in the 21st century after a hundred-year snooze and is, of course, utterly bewildered by what he sees. Men and women dash about, talking to small metal devices pinned to their ears. Young people sit at home on sofas, moving miniature athletes around on electronic screens. Older folk defy death and disability with metronomes in their chests and with hips made of metal and plastic. Airports, hospitals, shopping malls–every place Rip goes just baffles him. But when he finally walks into a schoolroom, the old man knows exactly where he is. “This is a school,” he declares. “We used to have these back in 1906. Only now the blackboards are white.”
It really is a sad statement of the school system when some of our world’s greatest scholars have such strong critiques of institutionalized schooling:
I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. Mark Twain
Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. Albert Einstein
It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curious of inquiry. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. Albert Einstein
In school I encountered authority of a different kind than I had ever encountered before, and I did not like it. And they really almost got me. They came close to really beating any curiosity out of me. Steve Jobs
I am beginning to suspect all elaborate and special systems of education. They seem to me to be built up on the supposition that every child is a kind of idiot who must be taught to think. Anne Sullivan
Knowledge that is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind. Plato
Since every effort in our educational life seems to be directed toward making of the child a being foreign to itself, it must of necessity produce individuals foreign to one another, and in everlasting antagonism with each other. Emma Goldman
Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality. Helen Beatrix Potter
What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook. Henry David Thoreau
Education is one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought. Bertrand Russell
Some of the overt and covert values and messages of our current institutionalized school system include:
- Learning is difficult and involves hard work, discipline, repetition.
- Obedience and conformity are valued.
- There are winners and losers. Winners are those who get the good grades; losers are those who do not.
- There are experts, the teachers, the textbooks, the administrators, who know it all and should not be questioned.
- Learning involves being quiet and sitting still in a desk.
- Traditional paper and pencil tests can measure student learning.
- Learning is about studying what has been and what is rather than what could be.
These educational practices are often taken at face value without being critically analyzed, dissected, and/or tested for truth. Educators and all related stakeholders do not engage in serious contemplation around the question, “What is the purpose of school?” in order to analyze the efficacy of these practices.
I am not advocating for the abolishment of school. Schools offer children and youth many resources they might not be able to get otherwise – communities of learners, mentorships, physical resources, emotional support. I am questioning, though, the broad acceptance by many that institution has to be the way it is. Isn’t a goal of education to learn the process of citizenship, democracy, the betterment of humankind? If so, shouldn’t all of the stakeholders – educators, learners, parent, community members, politicians – engage in a continual process of evaluating and modifying the school system to best meet the needs and desires of all? Evolution as defined as “
The argument, the questions I propose are not new but until change occurs, they are worth revisiting and reconsidering,
As a parting shot, when discussing the purpose of school, can be summarized by a statement made by Daniel Katz in Reflections on Ferguson — What does education mean in a world like this?
School is an enterprise that is premised around hope and purpose. In order to truly engage with the operation of school, a child has to believe that there are reasons and purposes that make sense and has to have hope that school will lead somewhere desirable.
I self-published an eBook: The Educator as a Maker Educator. It is available through Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Educator-as-Maker-ebook/dp/B00LYLQT0Y/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405867667&sr=1-2
The Maker Movement and the accompanying Maker Education are inching their ways in both formal (school) and informal (after school – camp) settings.
Whether it’s a paper airplane or a robot that walks, kids have always wanted to create functional objects with their own two hands. These days, many educators are channeling that natural urge to build with help from the wider maker movement, which has spawned maker faires and dedicated make spaces” in classrooms and media centers around the country. Pam Moran, superintendent of theAlbemarle County Public Schools in Virginia, contends that American classrooms of the past regularly fueled this type of creativity, and now is the time to bring back that spirit of innovation. “I see the maker movement as being a reconnect, both inside schools, as well as in communities, to redevelop the idea that we are creative individuals,” Moran said. “We are analytical problem-solvers, and we are people who, in working with our hands and minds, are able to create and construct. We are makers by nature.” (http://thejournal.com/articles/2014/04/30/the-maker-movement-conquers-the-classroom.aspx#1lvxqXlR6YpCS9DU.99)
Those involved in the maker movement have noted the problems with the type of learning occurring in the formal educational setting:
Formal education has become such a serious business, defined as success at abstract thinking and high-stakes testing, that thereʼs no time and no context for play. If play is what you do outside school, then that is where the real learning will take place and thatʼs where innovation and creativity will be found.
Our kids can be learning more efficiently—and as individuals. We imagine that schools can become places where students learn to identify their own challenges, solve new problems, motivate themselves to complete a project, engage in difficult tasks, work together, inspire others, and give advice and guidance to their peers. (Makerspace Playbook)
The potential of maker education and related STEM, STEAM (science, technology, education, arts, math), and DIY movements to transform education in transformative ways cannot be understated.
The maker movement has the opportunity to transform education by inviting students to be something other than consumers of education. They can become makers and creators of their own educational lives, moving from being directed to do something to becoming self-directed and independent learners. Increasingly, they can take advantage of new tools for creative expression and for exploring the real world around them. They can be active participants in constructing a new kind of education for the 21st-century, which will promote the creativity and critical thinking we say we value in people like Steve Jobs. Learning by Making: American kids should be building rockets and robots, not taking standardized tests
When a kid builds a model rocket, or a kite, or a birdhouse, she not only picks up math, physics, and chemistry along the way, she also develops her creativity, resourcefulness, planning abilities, curiosity, and engagement with the world around her. But since these things can’t be measured on a standardized test, schools no longer focus on them. As our public educational institutions continue down this grim road, they’ll lose value as places of learning. That may seem like a shame, but to the members of the growing DIY schooling movement, it’s an irresistible opportunity to roll up their sleeves. School for Hackers: The do-it-yourself movement revives learning by doing.
The following interactive video, made with Mozilla Popcorn further describes Maker Education – https://experientiallearning.makes.org/popcorn/1fjc
This ebook is a compilation of blog posts I wrote about Maker Education. They can all be found online but this compilation permits for easy access of all of them online and offline. The eBook includes theoretical ideas and research, some suggestions for implementation, the role of the educator as a maker educator, example units, and some informal research-observations.
I grew up in a family where my grandfathers and father were entrepreneurs – they started and ran their own businesses. My paternal grandfather, as a young man, bought a small vacuum cleaner sales store and later, changed it to selling entertainment electronics. Later, with my father, they moved to a larger space with increased inventory. A smaller store was opened in a a town nearby where I was a sales clerk during my teenage years. Their small business was a financial success as it supported our families with a strong middle class lifestyle for close to fifty years. I rejected this entrepreneurship spirit. Making money never interested me (I am a teacher, for gosh sake).
Fast forward to last year – I had the privilege of visiting Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy (BKBA) in Detroit and spending some time with its superintendent, Blair Evans. Mr. Evans demonstrated the school’s digital fabrication program and explained their permaculture program. I was impressed with these real-life skills building programs, but what resonated with me was what he said about educating the poor Detroit youth. He said that poor communities are very dependent on purchasing goods and services from sources outside of their communities. They lacked the awareness, skills, and where-with-all related to producing services and products for themselves. The goal is for the youth learn some skills, such as growing their own food or producing their own products, to establish some self-sufficiency.
This is reinforced by Steve Mariotti, founder of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), an expert in education for at-risk youth.
As an educator of at-risk youth for over thirty years, I’ve seen only one thing consistently bring children raised in poverty into the middle class: entrepreneurship education. Owner-entrepreneurship education empowers young people to make well-informed decisions about their future, whether they choose to become entrepreneurs or not. Our students discover that, like every individual, they already own five powerful assets: time, talent, attitude, energy and unique knowledge of one’s local market. They learn to use these assets to create businesses and jobs, and build wealth in their communities. I’ve seen apathetic kids whose families have been on welfare for generations get excited about school and their futures. They discover that they can participate in our economy and earn money. They quickly realize that to do so, they must to learn to read, write and do math. (Why Every School in America Should Teach Entrepreneurship)
This had me thinking of lessons I learned growing up in family focused on entrepreneurship. I learned customer service, the ethics being in business (and then ethics, in general), focusing on being the best while not worrying about the other “guy” while you do, and the skills-motivation to go after what I need and want. None of these lessons focuses directly on making money.
Because of my visit to BKBA and reflecting on my family’s business, I moved from an attitude of rejecting entrepreneurship (thinking it was about working for money) in formal education to being an advocate as I realized all of the life skills it can teach and reinforce.
Through entrepreneurship education, young people learn organizational skills, including time management, leadership development and interpersonal skills, all of which are highly transferable skills sought by employers. According to a report by the D.C. Children and Youth Investment Corporation, other positive outcomes include:
- improved academic performance, school attendance; and educational attainment
- increased problem-solving and decision-making abilities
- improved interpersonal relationships, teamwork, money management, and public speaking skills
- job readiness
- enhanced social psychological development (self-esteem, ego development, self-efficacy), and
- perceived improved health status (http://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/entrepreneurship.htm)
Yong Zhao in his book, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students, proposes that learner entrepreneurship should be integrated into school curriculum due to the following:
- Massive changes brought about by population growth, technology, and globalization not only demand but also create opportunities for “mass entrepreneurship” and thus require everyone to be globally minded, creative, and entrepreneurial. Entrepreneurship is no longer limited to starting or owning a business, but is expanded to social entrepreneurship, policy entrepreneurship, and intrapreneurship.
- Traditional schooling aims to prepare employees rather than creative entrepreneurs. As a result the more successful traditional schooling is (often measured by test scores in a few subjects), the more it stifles creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit.
- To cultivate creative and entrepreneurial talents is much more than adding an entrepreneurship course or program to the curriculum. It requires a paradigm shift—from employee-oriented education to entrepreneur-oriented education, from prescribing children’s education to supporting their learning, and from reducing human diversity to a few employable skills to enhancing individual talents.
- The elements of entrepreneur-oriented education have been proposed and practiced by various education leaders and institutions for a long time but they have largely remained on the fringe. What we need to do is to move them to the mainstream for all children.
More simple, Blair Evans of BKBA stated, “We’re building people, not just products. We get better outcomes if the kids can engage in useful work. This is much more effective than having them sit on a couch and talk. (Fab Lab: The DIY Factory That Can Make Anyone a Maker)
Raleigh Werberger, a high school history and humanities teacher in Hawaii, got inspired by Zhao’s book. He and his colleagues wanted to develop a ninth grade curriculum that was not only focused on project-based learning, but also wanted to encourage “an authentic, self-starting kind of drive — the sort of thing we see when kids are playing sports, making music, or doing anything that stems from personal passion — in other words, the internal desire to continually improve and to work hard at doing it.”
Students are working in teams to design and construct a small table- or desk-top aquaponics system for the home, and then market their product. In other words, we are blending academics and entrepreneurialism and challenging students to make Hawai’i’s growth more environmentally sustainable.
They are competing to present the best designs – scientifically, educationally and aesthetically – but also the best PR and marketing strategies. On Monday, April 22nd, 2013, they will present their designs and pitches to a team of experts – similar to the ABC show Shark Tank http://mpx9spring.weebly.com/aquaponics-home.html
More remarkably, this project even changed how they used their free time. I saw our students enrolling in online courses in either website or business development. Their social media use took on more significance and had a more authentic stake for them, as students began communicating with web journals and community organizations to expand their online presence and gain “endorsements” for their products. Eventually, their work became polished enough to attract the interest of a few local entrepreneurs who volunteered not only to teach them business skills, but also to host a Shark Tank event and bankroll the winners. While only one team won, the other teams vowed to continue developing their ideas and seek their own independent funding. They had redefined success as not necessarily getting A’s or passing the class, but as refusing to take no for an answer. (Using Entrepreneurship to Transform Student Work)
Finally, there is a current push for bringing Maker Education into the classroom. Making and entrepreneurship go hand-in-hand. Recently, President Obama to hosted the first-ever White House maker faire where the theme was A Nation of Makers: Empowering America’s Students and Entrepreneurs to Invent the Future.
America has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. In recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software, and desktop machine tools, with even more being created by the day. These tools are enabling more Americans to design and build almost anything.
The rise of the Maker Movement represents a huge opportunity for the United States. Nationwide, new tools for democratized production are boosting innovation and entrepreneurship in manufacturing, in the same way that the Internet and cloud computing have lowered the barriers to entry for digital startups, creating the foundation for new products and processes that can help to revitalize American manufacturing. (President Obama to Host First-Ever White House Maker Faire)
Additional Resources for bringing entrepreneurship into the classroom:
- Entrepreneur-in-the-Classroom (EITC) Programs
- Entrepreneurship Classroom Activities
- 50 Ideas for Bringing Entrepreneurship Into the Classroom
As those who follow me on Twitter and via this blog know, I am an advocate of the Maker Education movement. The reason, as I’ve mentioned, is that I come from a background in Experiential Education. Many of underlying principles and learning activities related to maker education fit nicely into the tenets and principles related to experiential education. Since this discipline-learning philosophy has been around a lot longer than the more formalized, current maker education movement, those attempting to move maker education into more traditional educational settings might draw from the writings and literature of experiential education to help explain and contextualized maker education.
Experiential Education, Maker Education, and John Dewey
Many look at the philosophy and writings of John Dewey as providing the foundation of experiential education.
For Dewey, experiences could be judged to be educative if they led to further growth, intellectually and morally; if there was a benefit to the community; and if the experience resulted in affective qualities that led to continued growth, such as curiosity, initiative, and a sense of purpose. (Experiential Education – Brief History of the Role of Experience in Education, Roles for the Teacher and the Student)
There is a congruence between these ideas proposed by Dewey and the Maker Mindset as discussed by Dale Dougherty, founder of Maker Media:
Fostering the maker mindset through education is a fundamentally human project to support the growth and development of another person not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. Learning should focus on the whole person because any truly creative enterprise requires all of us, not just some part. It is the difference between a child who is directed to perform a task and one who is self-directed to figure out what to do. That kind of transformation, that kind of personal and social change, is what making is about. (The Maker Mindset)
Paula Hogg in her post Why Dewey would applaud the maker movement in schools provides more insights about the connection of Dewey’s ideas with Maker Education.
In a maker environment children are at the center of the learning and it’s the child’s interests that drive the activities. This echoes the thinking of John Dewey John Dewey who said in My Pedagogical Creed “The child’s own instincts and powers furnish the material and give the starting point for all education” Dewey believed that all too often children are passively absorbing facts from the teacher and learning through play, exploration and inquiry is sidelined for strict discipline. Instead he thinks school should be places where children are actively learning through their own experience and working together helping one another and sharing the tasks. Doing and learning through play, tinkering, exploring and making are critical components of maker education.
Dewey also believed that the problem with traditional schooling is that it disjointed from the real workings of the world and therefore cannot prepare children for their adult lives. He goes on to say: “I believe that the school must represent present life – life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the play-ground” Central to the maker pedagogy is that learning must be meaningful and have a purpose for the child. It is about creating meaningful products – not just doing for the sake of doing. Children must be involved in tasks that include real life problem solving that is relevant and meaningful to them and their world. (Why Dewey would applaud the maker movement in schools)
The Practices of Experiential Education as Applied to Maker Education
The Association for Experiential Education, established in the early 1970s, proposed that the following principles mark the practice of Experiential Education. I took liberty in highlighting those phrases/practices that I believe also characterize Maker Education.
- Experiences are structured to require the learners to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results.
- Throughout the experiential learning process, the learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
- Learners are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
- The results of the learning are personal and form the basis for future experience and learning.
- Relationships are developed and nurtured: learner to self, learner to others and learner to the world at large.
- The educators and learners may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking and uncertainty, because the outcomes of experience cannot totally be predicted.
- The educator’s primary roles include setting suitable experiences, posing problems, setting boundaries, supporting learners, insuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process.
- The educator recognizes and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
- The design of the learning experience includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes and successes. http://www.aee.org/about/whatIsEE
Resources for Educator as a Design Thinker
Ideo. (n.d.). Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit – http://www.designthinkingforeducators.com/about-toolkit/
Pfau, P. (2014). Rethinking Education with Design Thinking – http://www.metropolismag.com/Point-of-View/February-2014/Rethinking-Education-with-Design-Thinking/.
Speicher, S. (2013). Design Thinking in Schools: An Emerging Movement Building Creative Confidence in our Youth – http://gettingsmart.com/2013/11/design-thinking-schools-emerging-movement-building-creative-confidence-youth/
Teachthought. (2013). 45 Design Thinking Resources For Educators http://www.teachthought.com/teaching/45-design-thinking-resources-for-educators/.
Since I have very strong convictions about what constitutes a “good” education, I am often asked how I got to this place of thinking. I begin my story by relating to my summer camp experiences as powerful learning and my school ones as being a big, long blur. The power of hands-on, experiential, and authentic learning was reinforced during my senior year of my undergraduate studies. I took an outdoor education course. As a requirement for the course, we were asked to be counselors at an outdoor education center, where students from local public schools spend five days at the residential center. My co-counselor, Eric, and I were given a 6th grade group.
It was an amazing, life changing experience for me; and hopefully for the kids in our group. All of the learning activities we did had experiential components. We learned biology by walking through a stream and collecting water samples to view under a microscope.
We learned history by visiting an old, local cemetery to study the family lineage and by making our own butter and ice cream like the pioneers did. I keep thinking how engaging and exciting these learning activities were and continual wondered why public school couldn’t be like this. These were all glorious, aha moments, but the biggest glorious, aha moment occurred for me when we spent an afternoon doing the team building course. The group worked well together as is evident in this photo:
One of the last activities was the porthole. The Porthole is constructed by suspending a tire between poles or trees. The objective is to cross from one side of the porthole to the other. The group must create a plan that takes participant physical ability and size to lift, pass, and spot participants in order to get them through. See http://www.ultimatecampresource.com/site/camp-activity/porthole-low-ropes-course.html for more information.
The biggest challenge of The Porthole is getting the last person through as there is no one to boost that person up to get through The Porthole. Darla was a member of the group. She had some developmental disabilities and was larger, older than the rest of the group. The members of the group didn’t make fun of her, but she was a bit invisible to them. Flash back to The Porthole. Not unexpectedly, the group got every through The Porthole leaving Darla on the original side by herself. One of the smallest kids in the group, Henry, quickly noticed and said, “I can help you, Darla.” He asked the group to pass him back through The Porthole to help her. He then got on his hands and knees and instructed Darla to stand on his back so she could reach The Porthole for the others to grab her from the other side. Henry was half of Darla’s size. I could see the pain on his face as she stood on his back, but he cheered her on as she did so, “You can do it, Darla. Go for it, Darla.” This act of generoisty from Henry was so touching that after the kids finished, I asked to take a moment and went off into the woods to cry.
The epilogue of this experience came in the form of a letter from Darla (with corrected spelling):
Thank you for a great week at Stone Valley. At first I was nervous and scared but I could tell you knew that I was. You and Eric taught me lots of things I didn’t know. You taught use how to play games and find nature right under own feet. You have taught use so much neat things that I can go on writing forever. But the best thing I like about your and Eric is that you are both wonderful counselors and no one can take your place in our family group.
I hate it when we had to leave. I wish our family group can stay there forever, but all have to go sometime.
I didn’t do much over the weekend. The only thing I was doing was thinking about what we did at Stone Valley.
Lots of Love,
. . . concrete evidence of glorious, aha moments experienced by Darla.
The core of my educational philosophy and pedagogical creed is that all educators should attempt to develop the conditions for glorious, aha moments for their learners every time they meet with them. So a simple, powerful question all educators can ask to determine his or her effectiveness in teaching a lesson is, “Did my learners experience aha, glorious moments during the instructional activities?”