Just one change in the school system…

Thoughtfull insights...

Thoughtfull insights…,
originally uploaded
by carf.

Clark Aldrich asked this question last week, but I’m just getting around to it now after letting it rattle around in my brain for several days.

If we could change just one thing in the U.S. school system, what would it be?

In the comments, several people quickly broke the “just one thing” rule and listed a half dozen suggestions. That was my first reaction too–how can you condense all the things we could do into just one change? There are so many things that could be done to improve schools. I agree with many of the suggestions in the comments: more teacher mentoring, better support for education research, give every student a computer, etc. (I disagree with the commenter who suggested toughening standardized tests and certifying anyone with a subject degree to teach regardless of any pedagogical training.)

It occurred to me that what Aldrich is really looking for is an underlying solution that encompasses many of these smaller solutions though.

From fourth through tenth grade, I participated in a program called Future Problem Solving. This was a great program. Several times a year, we researched a topic such as nutrition, medical advances, ozone, immigration, rainforests, or terrorism. After several weeks of research, we spent two hours in a team of four responding to a scenario. We brainstormed problems, selected one underlying problem, then brainstormed solutions which we evaluated. We wrote up several paragraphs to explain our final solution. The scenario was always a surprise; you knew the topic in advance but never the specifics. It is still amazing to me what we were able to do in a two-hour period–and in elementary school, no less!

The “underlying problem” from FPS seems relevant to me as I’m considering school reform possibilities. The concept of the underlying problem was that you tried to identify one problem that not only was more important than other problems from your brainstorming list, but if you could solve this one underlying problem that it would alleviate or solve multiple problems at the same time. With school reform, I’ve been thinking in terms of finding one underlying problem or one overarching solution that would cascade to address multiple problems simultaneously.

Here’s my proposal: focus on helping students become lifelong learners.

If everything we did was focused on the goal of helping students become lifelong learners, I think it could transform our educational system.

  • Lifelong learning isn’t about memorizing information; it’s about learning how to find and analyze and synthesize it.
  • Lifelong learning doesn’t come from passively receiving content; it comes from actively exploring and questioning and creating.
  • Lifelong learning isn’t encouraged by shallow coverage of whatever someone else decided is important; it’s inspired by deep delving into what personally excites you.
  • Lifelong learning doesn’t assume that the job you get right out of high school or college will be your career for life; it assumes you will have several careers and will learn to reinvent yourself repeatedly.

How do we do it? The good news is that I think we have a lot of options and possibilities. The bad news is that this probably sparks more questions than answers because there isn’t “one right way” to encourage lifelong learning. Then again, maybe that isn’t so bad. Let’s have a conversation about it and get everyone talking. If we were attempting more techniques with the goal of encouraging lifelong learning, even if some of them failed, I still think we’d be better off.

What do you think? Did I cop out by providing a vague phrase rather than a concrete solution? What would the one thing you change be?

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