I recently read an amazing piece in Wired about how one teacher in Mexico changed his teaching style, and in one year his students went from being uninterested and failing the national standardized test to being curious learners and the top students in all of Mexico. You can check out that article here.
Such amazing results were achieved by a relatively average teacher trying out a new method of teaching and starting with the question “what do you want to learn?” Â The point is that if you control what you are learning, you will learn better. From my own experience, I decided that I loved looking at maps and would spend hours poring over the world atlas – the result was a trip to the state geography bee championships (and, recently, completing my quest to go to all 50 states). Â When I decided I wanted to spend 4 extra hours each day studying math and logic at the age of 12 because it was interesting, it eventually led to success at the state math championships. I believe that each person has a life purpose, and to get there, we must allow ourselves Â (and allow students) the opportunity and the means to pursue that calling.
All this brings me to our education system, which has been a conundrum to me for a long time. Â What is the point of education and school? Education, broadly, should prepare you for succeeding in life. Â Given that everyone will take different paths in life, and that everyone has their own unique life purpose, education must be effectively prepare a student for anything. Â Is that possible with our education system? Â Today our national public school system operates as a machine – standardizing the results and hoping to turn out idealized identical products. Â Given that we also have no idea what the future will hold (I didn’t guess that the internet would happen), education should supply the world with people who are able to live in any future.
What is the point of even going to school? Are the subjects we study in school any better than what a student could get just from going outside and playing with friends and leaning about the world through exploration? Teachers, just like athletic coaches, can give you a steeper learning curve, but you still have to do the learning for yourself. The following are my thoughts about the underlying reasons to study the various subjects we encounter in the American school system:
What is the point of learning about history? To learn from the great minds, to learn about common mistakes, to learn how the wheels of society turn.
What is the point of learning about math and physics? To understand the underlying frameworks that control the physical world we deal with.
What is the point of learning biology? Because we are biology, and living things are what make the world so dynamic.
What is the point of sociology, psychology, philosophy and anthropology, and geography? Because by learning about people, you will learn about yourself, and you will learn how to move through society. Â You can’t get anything done (or be happy, I would argue) without people helping you.
What is the point of learning about writing and art? Even though we have moved beyond the tribal oral tradition – we use writing and art to communicate and inspire and share love. Â These are perhaps the most basic tools acquired in education.
What is the point of and education? Education should teach you how to solve problems, think through things – spend enough time on something to figure it out, teach you how to interact with people, how to make decisions (going toward good ideas, knowing what to avoid), create something new, and lastly, education should teach you how to learn new things forever. Education and learning should be motivating and energizing.
Does our current system live up to this?
We don’t want students to put themselves in any box, even if it the you are naturally good at math box. Â We want them to think “I learned this or a achieved that” by using focused thinking, creativity, persistence, teamwork, care, etc. to attack that particular problem. We want to create a system where we maximize the time that students spend in flow – learning activity that is just challenging enough to be interesting without being to simple minded or complicated. Every single person should love going to school because they love learning, which I think is basic human nature. Â All we have to do is get out of people’s way and they will learn. Â As teachers, we should facilitate and enable. Â Conformist metrics will no longer be a viable measuring stick for good education. Â Given that even the most remote schools in the backwoods parts of the world will have access to all the world’s knowledge on the internet, we no longer have to worry about filling up the minds of kids with information, but rather we need to help them figure out what the heck to do with so much knowledge. If we set up our education system in such a way, no student should ever feel dumb, uninterested, pessimistic.
What is your best memory of learning? Â What does our education system need? Leave me a comment below!