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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Student Calls for a Learning Revolution

Last year, industrial designer Dean Benstead unveiled the 02 Pursuit -- a prototype for a motorcycle ruled not by gas or electricity, but by compressed air. Just last month, Google announced to the public its secret initiative, Project Glass, the company's first venture into wearable computing.

And yet, in the world of education, the "next big thing" is merit pay for teachers and boosting test scores. Do our policymakers not understand that the world is going through a revolution in the way we live, interact and learn?

Our education system is stuck in paralysis. We have tried doing the same thing over and over again with the expectation of a different result. This is insanity at its finest. The way we educate is based on the tenets of the Industrial Revolution -- conformity and standardization.

For instance, creativity is virtually extinguished as a child goes through his or her schooling. In their 1998 book Breakpoint and Beyond, George Land and Beth Jarman refer to a study in which 1,500 kindergartners between three and five years old were given a divergent thinking test. Divergent thinking tests don't measure creativity, but rather one's propensity for creativity. The test asks questions such as "How many ways could you use this paperclip?" or "How many ways could you improve this toy fire truck?" -- questions designed to encourage creative thought rather than elicit right-or-wrong answers. Ninety-eight percent of kindergarteners tested at genius level. The kids were tested every few years. By the end of post-secondary education, only two percent of students tested at genius level.

So, if you're trying to produce compliant, dead-brained, formulaic workers, our system is doing exactly what it was designed for. (I should add "grade-obsessed" to that cadre of properties.) But in a society where innovation is simply everything, it is a cultural and moral failure to encourage this compliance.

Education Is Life

That's why I am starting a movement, or what Seth Godin might call "a tribe." The Learning Revolution is a tribe of change-makers and trailblazers united in a cause to transform our schools. We are connected through answering this simple yet powerful question: How can we make school the best hours of a kid's day?

Look at Brightworks, a K-12 independent school in San Francisco. No grades. No tests. No transcripts. The curriculum is based on the "Brightworks Arc" -- exploration, expression and exposition. If we put these principles on the high pedestal, only then will John Dewey's saying, "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself," come to fruition.

Indeed, education is undergoing a renaissance. Learners -- not institutions -- are creating a bottom-up change. From abolishing the SAT to calling for project-based learning in the classroom, we're fighting for significant changes. We don't deserve to be pelted with Scantrons and #2 pencils. We are not a bunch of numbers. We are living, breathing, creative human beings.

As Scott Belsky put it, "Ideas are worthless if you can't make them happen." We have to cultivate -- holistically and whole-heartedly -- our powers of imagination and creativity within a different paradigm of human purpose. Michelangelo once said, "The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." For all our futures, as Sir Ken Robinson writes, we need to aim high.

The Learning Revolution movement is about everyone. We are students. We are educators. We are parents. We are administrators. We are entrepreneurs. We are concerned citizens. We are mad as hell. The last thing you can do is ignore us.

No reforms. A revolution. Bring it on!

Comments (11)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Aaron Sherman's picture
Aaron Sherman
English Language Arts Educator from Columbus, Ohio

When student demand for the revolution reaches the tipping point, then the adults, textbook cartels, news media, unions, and policy makers will have no choice but to try something new, innovative, and to allow the techy youth's je ne sais quoi to be properly challenged.

Ivon Prefontaine's picture
Ivon Prefontaine
Multi Grade Teacher in Stony, Plain Alberta

It is great to read an article written by someone who is still in the process of being educated and who recognizes the need for not more of the same change, but real change. I believe there is bottom up change happening amongst parents and classroom teachers, as well.

Bob Amses's picture

Perhaps the problem is less about schools "trying the same thing over and over again," and more about the snail's pace at which schools apply innovations in curricula and technology. The classroom of today has clearly evolved from those of previous generations, but that is of little consolation because they are still disturbingly incongruous with our culture's immediacy, and little is being done to develop transferable skills that will still have efficacy when applied in an ever-changing social landscape. I agree with you that an ideological shift is long overdue, and my best hope is that the changes we make stand the test of time by providing flexibility and relevance to current and future learners. My worst fear is that change will continue to come in the form of updated but rigid structures that arrive at the station long after the train has pulled away.

Michelle Benedict's picture

As a 35-year-old student in college, I have to agree that bottom-up change is on the rise. I see so many things that would make higher education better as a result of my experience in a teacher preparation program, and as a parent of 5 children. Unfortunately, I am only one cog in the machine, finding it difficult to change things for the better. You are inspiring to me; helping me understand that I can still have an impact. Thanks for the article.

Kelly KJ's picture
Kelly KJ
Instructional Coach in Newport News, VA

I couldn't agree more, Nikhil! My son, a high school junior, would join your revolution, as well! He is currently writing a research paper in his English class on this very topic. He spent his elementary school years at a Project Based Learning school, and has wondered for 3 years why his high school years have been spent behind desks listening to teachers talking at lecterns, spending hours each night memorizing facts and figures for tomorrow's "quizzes." His love for learning, built over many years of asking questions and seeking answers, has been squelched between daily reviews and practice tests. In my 31 years as an educator, I have seen a steady increase in boredom and a steady decline in creative thinking.

Rebecca Fochek's picture

Nice job!! I offer workshops with this exactly same motto. My workshops are mirrored with the PBL and the students love attending my workshops. I incorporate real world experience and turn them into math, reading, writing, and Science problems. Some of the time the students do not even realize they are grasping higher level concepts.
Students need to be prepared for 21st Century.

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