The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write,
but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. Alvin Toffler

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

School Can Be Beautiful

After weeks away from my blog, I have once again found inspiration through twitters and blogs that have recently passed my way. Of particular interest were two youtube presentations, the first by Jesse Schell entitled “The Future is Beautiful.” Everything, Jesse proclaimed, has become beautiful, from shampoo bottles to our cell phones, built with color, style and grace. Everything has become beautiful; everything, that is, besides schools.

Schools are not beautiful; they are ugly. With their drab brown/gray furniture and boxy linear classrooms, there is nothing aesthetically pleasing about school. Schools are not just ugly. As the outer world asks for “more real”—better clothes, better food, better movies—schools are fake. Teachers pretend to be the experts while students pretend (sometimes) to be interested. The human experience everywhere else is becoming more social, more shared; school is isolating and confining. School is more often than not boring, and sometimes sad.

So, what are we waiting for? When are we going to start making every minute of every day that our students spend in school relevant to their lives and to their futures? Jeffrey Piontek entitles his presentation “Teaching Jetson Children in Flintstone Schools.” He cites the television as a tool that took 40 years getting into schools and not very effectively at that. So, are we still 10 years away from integrating computer technology into the mainstream? Jeffrey finally left the public school arena to start his own charter school citing too much bureaucracy and regulation. Is that what holds us back at MNW? I don’t think so.

The answer is to stop talking at our students and instead to have them DOING and CREATING collaboratively in order to learn. Don’t tell them about a business, have them start one, real or simulated. Don’t memorize formulas, apply them to real problems and simulations. Don’t memorize historical dates and characters, find parallels with what happened then and what’s happening now and why they should care. Don’t lecture science; have them be scientists working on scientific problems.

There is no longer any excuse to conduct school as we have always done school. To borrow from Superintendent Bob Miller (Okoboji) there is no business in the world that needs people who sit in straight rows, performing repetitive tasks under close supervision. If we are not creating a collaborative, project-based work space in our classrooms, then we are out of touch with the needs of 21st century students.

We need no longer pretend that lists of facts, grammar rules, logarithms, classes of insects, kings of the 3rd century B.C, or anything else unrelated to the lives and purposes of our students is going to be remembered 2 steps beyond our classroom doors. Make it relevant, make it shared, make it part of their passion or at least of their interest so that they can construct their own knowledge rather than memorize bits of ours. And possibly, just possibly, it will be beautiful, it will be happy, it will be fun, for students and teachers alike.

The Future is Beautiful

Raising Jetson Kids in Flintstone Schools