Following up from the last post, there are some very sobering questions that we need to ask which are:
"How many learners who could become effective and much needed agents of change in our societies are falling between the cracks of our present education systems? How many are becoming discouraged and disconnected with their education because the education system requires that they fit a centuries old norm that does not nurture innovation, creativity, or higher end critical thinking skills?
Our responses to such learners has been any of the following:
- Isolate them and put them together with their own kind in a special class or even a special school.
- Just keep giving them what we are giving the rest of the class but give them alot more of it to keep them busy.
- We really don't have to spend alot of time on them because we know that they will always do well at school. We need to spend more time with those students who are struggling and those who are average. Teaching to the lowest common denominator with respect to achievement will give us something to boast about when we undergo school performance reviews and our superiors see how much our test scores have gone up.
- Send him or her to the principal's office because he or she is always interrupting the class with crazy ideas. He or she have become a real discipline problem because he or she is always bothering other students around him or her and even tries to correct me on what I am teaching. Personally, I think that he or she has "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder" and should be on "meds".
Do any of the above responses sound familiar to you? We need to look at education in a new light. We need to recognize that we need to be able to identify those learners who could make a credible difference in solving the many complex real world problems that we face as societies and encourage the development of their skillsets.
So, if it is important that we not lose such learners, what is stopping us from doing something about it?
Problems That We Have Inherited
- Assembly Line Model of Education: This mindset basically treats learners as a "tabula rasa" or blank slates on an assembly line which move from grade to grade with each educator along the assembly line insisting on conformity to the rules and inculcating these learning objects with the required content and skillsets prescribed by a government document, crafted by those in power within a given society. From an economic standpoint there are only two goals that must be met which is the production of efficient, conforming workers and life long consumers. This is for the masses and any learning object that does not conform to the standard comes under the oversight of the quality control department for remediation. It is a good system if all we want to do is create learners who all think alike without a creative or innovative thought among them.
- The Egalitarian Myth: Egalitarianism is a principle that says that people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. The concept, in itself, is worthwhile but the problem arises when certain education activists within societies try to apply that to the level of achievement that learners merit. Within a society that has self-entitlement as a mindset, the idea that all learners merit being at a high level with those in the upper achievement spectrum and if they are not, then the reason is poor teaching, poor education policies. poor access to education support systems..etc. The reality that is rejected is the possibility that perhaps the learner himself or herself have not personally acquired the skills necessary to merit being at the higher level. This aberration of this principle clearly rejects the idea of personal responsibility for one's own educational achievement. Out of this myth, we have such debates about whether failing marks should even be assigned to learners despite the fact that this is what they merit, debates about changing what is taught by softening the requirements so that more and more can make their way into the upper achievement levels. (Author's note--I detest both of these ideas and see them as compromises in which we will all pay for in the end).
- The Marks Only Syndrome: In our societies the overemphasis on marks alone really brings into question of what we want learners to value in life. Do we want them to work solely for the purpose of acquiring higher marks to gain entrance into higher education or do we want them to learn how to think and learn to love learning itself?
- Emotional Reasoning vs. Critical Reasoning: In an age of social media, one of the unfortunate by-products is that we ask the question:" How do you feel about one issue or another?" before we ask the question: "What do you think about one issue or another?", if we ask that question at all. The problem that arises is that we ask young learners in particular to take a stand on an issue such as "bullying" without equipping them with the critical thinking skills needed in order to examine verifiable evidence on both sides of the issue. What you receive then is a stream of emotional language making up opinions without critically examining the root of it. If pushed, many young learners can get beyond phrases such as:"Its not fair". This leaves young learners open to manipulation by others hoping to have them adopt an their point of view uncritically.
How Can We Overcome These Barriers
In order for a transformation to take place a change in mindset is required and a recognition that the present educational mindset is counter-productive to turning out effective agents of change.
Another requirement is that we stop segregating learners who demonstrate the qualities that would make them potential agents of change and instead mentor them in how to learn in an online world within the social context they find themselves in. Although some would say that we should do this for every learner, the fact is that the skillsets are not present in every learner. One of the most difficult barriers to overcome is the attitude of self-entitlement which is absolutely necessary to overcome in order for the future change agents to consider the needs of all people over their own.
Next--Taking these ideas a step further---helping learners make useful connections with networks