Updated: Aug 29, 2019

Learning, Teaching, and the Independent Mind

no attribution required - PIRO4D (cc)

How many times have you wondered about the quality of your kid's education, the quality of your own education, or the quality of institutionalized education in general? My son's social studies teacher would give everyone in the class a thick packet of material to read. Their job was to sit in class, read the textbook and answer about sixty questions in the packet. Meanwhile she sat at her desk, and according to my son, primarily looked at her email. She would, at weekly intervals, give a test on that material. Although my son did very well in school, he almost failed the first test. We went together to ask her what he could do differently and she assured me with a smile, "If it makes you feel any better, almost everyone failed the test." No, I said. That does not make me feel better.

“We've sat in those desks, those same desks that our kids are sitting in. We've read the same books that our kids are reading from. We've taken the same tests that our kids are taking. And we've forgotten the same answers that our kids are going to forget as they go through school.” - Will Richardson

Once the expectations were clear and my son understood the lay of the land, he managed-up and pulled the grade he desired in the end. Throughout the semester he came home frustrated with the content of the course, baffled at why he needed to learn terms like: Portage - "the practice of carrying water-craft or cargo over land, either around an obstacle in a river, or between two bodies of water. A path where items are regularly carried between bodies of water is also called a portage." Though he loved some courses, he found this one particularly frustrating.

Given a choice he would have learned about the development of technology in the 20th century. He would have learned about architectural design, digital design, and marketing as well as the mechanical and design evolution of automobiles. As it was, he explored these things in his free time, of which he had very little in the high achieving busy world of a university-bound high school student. His source of inspiration and content to feed his curiosity? The internet.

Here's To Incredible Teachers Wherever Found

That's not to say there aren't incredible, passionate, and invested teachers to be found in all areas of teaching. But not every delivery method is effective and not all content is universally valuable. Will Richardson in his TED Talk suggests that the quest for better education today is focused on test preparation as opposed to providing places of deep inquiry. He gives examples of kids, even his own daughter, who take the opportunity to feed and inform their passions through an opportunity found through an electronic connection to "two-billion potential teachers."

“Right now, this system is killing our kids. It is taking all the imagination, all the creativity, all the initiative, all the engagement right out of them.” - Will Richardson

Is it time for a revolution in formal education? What are the chances that new generations are moving on without the traditional education system? Technology is a new world of opportunity for learning that educational institutions have just scratched the surface of. The insistence on and comfort level with traditional frameworks may be causing institutions to lag behind. As young people become internet entrepreneurs and create entirely new and innovative ways to create, new ways of earning credentials and increasing ways to connect with others may make the model of controlled learning in a lecture hall obsolete.

Examples of online learning provided in Will Richardson's TED Talk

Education Week in 2016 highlighted the evolution to Personalized Learning: " Many in the ed-tech field see new technologies as powerful tools to help schools meet the needs of ever-more-diverse student populations. The idea is that digital devices, software, and learning platforms offer a once-unimaginable array of options for tailoring education to each individual student’s academic strengths and weaknesses, interests and motivations, personal preferences, and optimal pace of learning".

With ever growing access to information and learning, and new ways through technology of expressing and applying our passions, will there come a time when a University education is no longer a pinnacle indicator of future success?

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© 2019 by Lisa Holloway

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