Every other month or so I have to write this kind of post. I get to the point I feel what I have found to be good is under attack and I am baffled. The best I can do is to imagine the attacks come from extremists who know no better. It is possible my views are just as divergent leading me to conclude that the truth is somewhere in between. However, without staking out different views there would be no middle ground.
It is trendy to put down present educational tactics even among educators. What follows is a rambling reaction to several of these attacks. Folks offer personal horror stories of educational experiences or the story of others failed by the system. They use such anecdotes to explain that education is failing. I don’t get those who take these positions, I just pretend I do. Some claim books and lectures are bad. I love books and always have. I enjoy a good presentation with or without Power Points. I enjoyed school and I enjoyed learning. Topics bored me and I suppose some of my teachers could have been better, but I was never upset with the total experience. I guess I always assumed that life offers you a variety of experiences and you just have to sort through the mix.
Some of the books on educational reform I have been reading contend that the education machine from content providers, to administration, to the educators themselves is based on a self selection model. Those suited to the status quo moved on to develop content, administer and teach. If you were part of the system and benefited from the opportunities it offered, how do you defend yourself against the self selection complaint? On the other hand, how do you know if this is true? I know plenty of college students who were mediocre and went on to become K-12 teachers. Some were quite good. It seems very possible this is about values rather than success in a previous stage of the education process.
Moving to another unrelated complaint – What about lectures? I do sometimes become fatigued after about 50 minutes, but as long as a presentation is informative I get value from such experiences. It is true some presenters are not very good. It is also true that some topics just don’t interest me. I remember some classes with great presenters I ended up skipping or dropping because I could not make myself find the information of value. I could not blame the quality of the presentation for my lack of enthusiasm. This is just the way things seem to be.
Generic statements that this or that instructional tactic is boring annoy me. Contrived interaction is what I find boring. Take five minutes, turn to the person beside you, share a description of the teacher who changed your life. I want to head for the door. I want my interaction to be learner-centered – contrived, scripted interaction is not. I have plenty of colleagues to discuss the information I receive from what I hear or read. I know these individuals and our interactions do not require an awkward period of becoming acquainted. Our discussions occur within a context. These contrived experiences seem to happen so often at conferences when presenters want to show they are up on new practices and do not want to be teacher-centric and lecture. If you have 15 minutes of information do not apply for a 30 minute session. Give me what you have and let me move on. By the way – these differences are not learning styles, these are learning preferences. My point is those who argue a given tactic need to be eliminated often fail to acknowledge that not everyone sees things in the same way.
Here is the way it is – now I am no longer suggesting we have our own preferences. We live in our own minds. What happens outside is important only to the extent it influences what happens inside. This is what so many miss or don’t want to understand. I read frequently that we must encourage students to be in charge of their own learning. I never understood the process any other way. I decided whether to go to class and whether to read the book. Most importantly, I decided whether or not and how to think about my learning experiences. The lecture, the book, the contrived discussion – these are simply external experiences I may or may not process. Everyone works this way. Each of us is in charge of our own learning no matter the differences in experiences.
The proposal that we are failing to prepare students for the jobs of the 21st century kind of baffles me. My world ended up having the characteristics pundits claim we are not preparing young people to confront. I would probably qualify as being a knowledge worker relying on technologies that were not imagined when I was educated. Those who failed to experience these changes as they happen somehow think rapid change is a new thing that requires unique preparation. The personal computer did not emerge until my career was about half over followed about ten years later by the Internet. I am guessing you realize that these changes happened but have never given a thought to those old enough to experience such changes reaction. How could they possibly adapt to do things they were not trained to do? If you are interested in learning and willing to learn, change is motivating because it brings such opportunities. Being part of these transitions has provided a perspective those who came late to the game simply do not have.
One final example – again making an observation about perspective. The present educational focus on coding baffles me. Yes, many present ways depend on programs and digital devices. I was not taught to program, I taught myself from books, magazines, and videos (books and presentations). I learned to become a competent programmer because I thought I had to have such skills. Once, I started I found great satisfaction in writing software that did interesting things and the process of learning new things became self perpetuating. I now seldom use the skills I used when I was younger because software necessary to meet my needs is both far more available and made to be modified by nonprogrammers. I often wonder how many of the educational proponents of programming have ever written a program that served a personal need or a program used by someone else. Clearly, programming is a valuable career skill for experts, but dated as a skill for a large proportion of future workers. Isn’t it the outdated skills we are trying to down play. Ed tech people used to avoid the impression they were teaching computer literacy. Now, computer literacy may be a more accurate way to describe what is needed.
Those with a limited time perspective may assume the challenges they imagine for their students are unique. Unique, perhaps, but each age cohort has had to learn to adapt. Perhaps you have not thought of things this way. You just need a longer perspective. Remember President Reagan’s famous debate quote – I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience. I must admit I never thought I would quote Reagan.