Sunday, May 8, 2011

What is the Purpose of School? Let's Back Away from the Trees and Look at the Forest

What is the purpose of school anyway? Rote memorization is almost totally unnecessary, since we can look up formulas, mathematical conversions and the capital of Zimbabwe with a few clicks on any Internet connected device. So, shouldn't we be teaching kids to think, rather than to regurgitate back what they've "learned." Seth Godin makes a pretty good list about high school:

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/05/whats-high-school-for.html
I love this list! If only it could be this simple. If only we didn't have a huge bureaucratic machine that prevents teachers from simple teaching what today's students need. 
I'm not saying that a lot of these things aren't being taught. I've definitely seen several of these items in some schools. I've seen project based learning work extremely well in middle school. I've seen collaboration work quite well in other schools. In today's society, we rarely work alone. We need to be able work with people in groups or in other types of collaboration. 
I also think teaching students to question is important, rather than just regurgitating information. This is going on in some classrooms, too. I've read some great posts about questioning lately. 
Elizabeth Eastman at River Oaks Elementary (wonderful, thoughtful blog) wrote a great about questioning with how to implement strategies, particularly in elementary:

Also, I really love this from Joe Bower, who consistently writes thoughtful posts at For the Love of Learning: 
http://www.joebower.org/p/rethink-lesson-planning.html
Teaching students to be inquisitive, to ask questions, to construct their own learning. Wow! That's what we really need. I know this is happening in some classrooms. But what if we were able to develop "standards" that were more open-ended and less about specific facts that students have memorized. I'm not sure there is a way to measure students thinking ability. I know that the new state standardized test in Texas is trying to do that. But I still think standardized testing is biased towards kids who are good test takers. And that whole system is inherently flawed because teachers have to begin teaching kids how to test, rather than teaching them to think.
What if we stopped looking just at the line-item standards (the trees) and ask ourselves what the overall mission of school is today? Then we can focus in on what types of teaching will get us to that goal. Rather than just looking at the standards and how they aren't rigorous enough compared to other countries. Because if all of our kids were taught to question and think critically, we wouldn't have to worry about other countries.

Just a thought.