The Great Disruption continues. Schooling, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, has been cast into the wind and, like so many autumn leaves, it swirls in all directions. As a result of trying to control the wind and grasp the leaves, many (most?) students, parents, teachers and administrators are left reeling and feeling a little dizzy.
The reality of mainstream schooling is that it is based on a model of industrial efficiency, which isn’t very adaptable to circumstances like the present pandemic.
In these pandemic times, I see a big problem in how the education system mainly keeps trying to replicate the pre-pandemic model, which hasn’t translated so well into home-based learning according to many reports from participants. The complaints focus on how tedious the regimen is, replete with near-endless Zoom rooms, worksheets, rote exercises, etc.
A way to seek to better engage learners of all ages, but especially kids and youth, would focus on a model of ‘working with’ students rather than ‘working against’. This model is based on a recognition that so many things ‘educationists’ (schooling devotees) think to be true about kids’ learning, are not true at all. And so they are not worth clinging to, especially now.
In my career as an educational innovator, I have seen many such issues in play, and, below, I identify how certain tried-and-tedious-myths about learning are worth challenging:
Literacy & Reading: Kids need to be forced to read. Wrong, a gazillion kids – now young adults – gained superb reading skills tearing through the Harry Potter series a generation ago, my daughter among them. Another gazillion kids deepened their reading skills on early social media platforms, communicating, among other things, about books like Harry Potter. Personal interests promote reading.
Literacy & Writing: Kids need to be forced to write, and only correct grammar will suffice as competent writing. Nonsense, another gazillion kids write very effectively, having scratched up their skills on social media, communicating with others about things they were deeply interested in. This didn’t happen in school. Personal interests promote writng. Almost any competent or successful writer will confirm this formula.
Competency & Logical Thinking: Kids need instruction to learn logical thinking. Piffle, a gazillion kids engage very competently in this each day through their gaming activities, as gamers, game designers and game testers. They on-board and level-up their skills to mastery in the time it takes you and I to drink a latté, and they should be recognized and encouraged in this.
Competency & Science, Enterprise, Civics: Kids need formal, advanced instruction in these subjects to understand them before participating in them. Twaddle, knowledge and practical skills in all of these areas are accessible in every community on earth through real, ongoing projects, and kids and youth deserve access to them.
If you doubt that kids can make important contributions in communities where they live then I urge you to consult my friend, David Marshak’s 2019 book, Inviting Youths to Claim the Power of their Imagination or view his blog at Evolutionary Parenting.
In closing, I’d assert that there is nothing in mainstream schooling, other than habitual re-production, preventing it from innovating and better adapting to present circumstances. It’s possible, it is being done by some courageous outliers and it’s time to ask: If not now, when?
I’ll leave the final word on this to one of my mentors, educator-author John Holt:
“The one thing we can be sure of is that children have a passionate desire to understand as much of the world as they can, even what they cannot see and touch, and as far as possible to acquire some kind of skill, competence, and control in it and over it. Now this desire, this need to understand the world and be able to do things in it … is every bit as strong as the need for food, for warmth, for shelter, for comfort, for sleep, for love.”
– Learning All The Time, 1989