The Slow Awakening
Posted by Stephen Dill on August 5, 2010
The total reboot of global public education (which will no longer be public, by the way, but personal—what we call private now) is going to take time. Lots of time. I call it my 150-year project because I suspect it will take at least that long to bring about. However, every day there are more and more small signs that thinking individuals are coming to the conclusion that the foundations of the current education system are no longer appropriate, as indicated by the poor results of the system built upon them.
My childhood neighbor, Judith Scacco Pack—another Facebook reconnection success story, linked to an article from EducationNews.Org and the title caught my eye: Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling in Graduation Speech. Unique as much for its message as the age of the presenter of that message, Erica Goldson politely and respectfully expressed her frustration with the education system to the audience at the graduation ceremony at Coxsackie-Athens High School. In her estimation:
We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective. Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something?” Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.
Ms. Goldson touches on a concordant theme stated elsewhere here on All New Public Education: that “education” is not about standardization, but freedom of expression and lifelong learning. While many may nod their heads and agree to the words, few realize that this means no buildings where all children enter and are sorted by age. This means “classes” unlike any we know now, for classes will be associated by interest, not age or geography, connected by the Internet, unmeasured by tests unless decided by the pupils to have some value to help them learn the topic. Few I speak with can grasp the idea that a child may not begin learning from someone else until they are 12 or older, while other children may become teachers at age 10 without ever having taken formal training from anyone else, either in the topic they are now teaching, or the process of teaching. Throughout time the young mind, unfettered by adult constraints, consistently confounds adult’s preconceived correlations between age and mental acuity and capacity.
“Anarchy!” I hear all the time. If only a few did it, such as the relatively small number pursuing unschooling today, perhaps. But not when everyone does it, the world over. “Utopian,” is another response. Perhaps so, but we once knew the value of teaching by doing; letting children play and work alongside their peers and parents in order to identify their personal interests. But we are talking centuries ago. The last vestige of that culture is still seen in the traditional school year calendar, scheduled originally to allow children to assist the family farm. By 1854 Thoreau wrote in “Walden,”
I mean that they should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living? Methinks this would exercise their minds as much as mathematics. If I wished a boy to know something about the arts and sciences, for instance, I would not pursue the common course, which is merely to send him into the neighborhood of some professor, where anything is professed and practised but the art of life; — to survey the world through a telescope or a microscope, and never with his natural eye; to study chemistry, and not learn how his bread is made, or mechanics, and not learn how it is earned; to discover new satellites to Neptune, and not detect the motes in his eyes, or to what vagabond he is a satellite himself; or to be devoured by the monsters that swarm all around him, while contemplating the monsters in a drop of vinegar. Which would have advanced the most at the end of a month — the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this — or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the Institute in the meanwhile, and had received a Rodgers’ penknife from his father? Which would be most likely to cut his fingers?
I applaud Ms. Goldson’s bravery in challenging the status quo and in taking to task the system that almost convinced her that chasing the goal of better grades than anyone else in her class was in her best interests. Erica has joined the many who shake their heads in baffled wonder at how such methods can persist so long after so much conclusive evidence has been accumulated to disprove its validity. Howard Gardner, John Taylor Gatto and all the many others who have paved the way to understanding the need for educational revolution must be very, very patient people.