If you look at our education system from kindergarten to 12th grade. It’s based on learning repetition. Learning how to formulate a math problem, to find x. Reading a book or essay and then, writing an essay or a paper containing a specific number of words or pages. When I say it’s based on repetition, I mean it’s the same process over and over again. Enter class, listen to the teacher talk about something, open book to specific spot, study and then repeat the information you studied back onto paper in the form of a test. The only questions you ask are based on the topic you are being taught.
In the 10 years since I graduated from High School, I have learned countless numbers of things that I should have learned in High School, but the reason I didn’t learn it in school is because of one thing. Our teachers are forced to stick with a curriculum that reflects the state standardized testing, which then in turn creates the ability for the state to leverage how much money goes to schools. You’re not being taught useful, life topics. You’re being taught only the information required to pass a test, and not only pass the test but do quite well on the test so that more money will be introduced into the budget.
I am a product of that system, as I am sure most of you are. I am not sure what other states call it, or even what Washington State calls the test now, but when I was in school it was called the W.A.S.L. or the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. Through the years of my time in public school, we were given a couple of practice tests, one while we were in elementary school, another in 7th grade and then finally the actual test in 10th grade. It got to the point that Vancouver Public Schools decided that starting with the Class of 2004 (a year after I graduated) that passing the test as a sophomore would be a requirement for graduation. As if graduating was an easy endeavor, they needed to make it even more difficult. The W.A.S.L. doesn’t exist anymore and I’m not sure what the current requirements there are for graduating.
The problem with this kind of system is, we have removed the ability for children to learn. We are teaching them only what they need to pass a test, not function in society. I don’t about you, but in regular everyday life, I personally, have never walked into a coffee shop and the barista has shouted out, “POP QUIZ! 10 minutes to finish it, no calculators”. Life doesn’t revolve around testing, it’s quite opposite. Life is about adapting to the environment and having the brain power to understand what is changing around you so that you can keep up with the events.
I just watched a talk on TED, about a system called, “Self Organized Learning Environment” or S.O.L.E. and the basis of the system is that the teacher doesn’t teach, the teacher asks the big question and then lets the kids talk about it and come to the conclusion. The talk was presented by Sugata Mitra (find more on him here) he is an education researcher and did an experiment where he left a computer in a village in India for 2 months to see what would happen. Children who had no idea what it was or how to use it flocked to the computer to figure out what it was. He returned in 2 months to find the kids had began to learn how to use the system and browse the computer.
If children are left to teach themselves, amazing things come from it. Our current education system is obsolete because we don’t need to create people who can pass tests, but we need smart, intelligent, intuitive and curious people. People who challenge themselves to climb higher. Teachers shouldn’t be standing in the front of a classroom rambling on and on, teachers should act as more of a moderator in the learning process of the children.
Being a computer nerd/geek, There have been things I thought I could never understand because they seemed to complicated. Take math for example, through school I was horrible at math. Only in my Junior year did I finally being to understand math, I lost it all the next year when I stopped using it. But when I began to write PHP code, I was unaware of the existence of math within the code I was writing. I thought of it was simply code that performed the function I was writing it to do. Then with the help of my therapist, I began to see the math within the code. Math, something I hated doing because it was confusing and intimidating, was now something I could do, because what I was doing was fun.
This isn’t to say that I suddenly understood math, because I still struggle with basic multiplication and division. What I think is amazing, is that without even knowing it, I was doing what I was told is “high level math”, writing code to compare variables and determine if one or multiples were less than, greater than, or equal to another. If allowed to, children will start to learn simply through curiosity. The teacher should simply be there to keep the conversation going in one direction and assist where needed.
Our children will benefit greatly from a system where curiosity is the driver of education. Not the way our system currently works. I know that when my Wife and I have kids, I will teach them through curiosity, and because of this, their imagination will take them to amazing places and do monumental things.