When I look at this picture from 1960 from classroom and think about the modern day classroom, things sure look very similar. Some things have changed for the better, and yet a lot has stayed quite the same. It speaks to me about all that is wrong with public education. I just read this interesting article in Forbes (Parts 1 & 2 linked above) entitled “The Single Best Idea for Reforming K-12 Education” by Steve Denning.
I found his critique of the modern public school system as a failure of factory model of management fairly compelling. I wholeheartedly agree with his analogy and analysis. On the surface, it seems to me that in trying to educate the masses, we are forced to use methodologies that emphasize scalability, economies of scale, mass production, efficiency, and standardization. However, in the end, we seem to agree nationwide that we are churning out a fairly poor product for all this work and effort. It is true that there are the exceptional schools and exceptional students, but if we are looking at this broadly, I truly question whether or not we are producing thoughtful, contributing, productive members of our society. Sadly, I don’t believe that we do a very good job of that at all.
I found his argument for the solution to be inspiring. Denning writes : “The goal needs to shift from one of making a system that teaches children a curriculum more efficiently to one of making the system more effective by inspiring lifelong learning in students, so that they are able to have full and productive lives in a rapidly shifting economy.” This is exactly the sentiment that I hear echoed and championed by many homeschooling families who recognize the current system is failing their children.
As a homeschooling mom of my nearly 3 year old, I do see my role as his parent and teacher to enable and inspire my son in embracing the idea of lifelong learning. Although homeschooling is most definitely not scalable, it is highly individual to the learner. It is an educational choice that does fundamentally work on a daily basis to inspire the desire to learn and instill the ownership of that process with the student. The responsibility of that job is sometimes quite overwhelming to contemplate. Yet when I look at my son and the sheer delight he has in mastery of skills like mastering counting and reading numerals to 100 this week, I can not even begin to describe how immensely rewarding it is to be his companion and guide on his learning journey.
I recall how much I suffered and literally felt tortured by learning phonics because it did not come easily to me as a non-English speaking child. It is a miracle that I became a voracious reader. I am so glad that for my son all of this is such an enjoyable and came so naturally for him (more in later posts on how I went about teaching a baby/toddler to read). He finds the world to be such a delightful place that is full of math and language everywhere he goes.
The closest that I see that being reached in the public education venue is through a blend of online education with classroom teacher/proctor/mentors. I am intrigued by the idea of being able to use technology to tap into master teachers and stellar, engaging, and evolving curriculum like K12 (http://www.k12.com/) instead of using multitudes of teachers that are expected to be a jack of all trades yet a master of none. I like the idea of having teachers in the classroom as well to help guide that journey and allow the flexibility of a student to go at their own pace and also to pursue deeper learning. It would be a totally new way of seeing how the educational process could be more fluid, mastery based, individualized, and student focused and driven. An experiment is currently underway in the first K12 charter high school in San Francisco. It will be very interesting to see how this unfolds.
So what do you think about Denning’s solution about public education? What do you see that is working in public education that prepares our children to be highly functioning members of a world that is increasingly complex, knowledge based and dynamic?