As I sit here looking at the drawings, reading the stories, and nursing the cold the kids at Endeavor Charter School were kind enough to share with me last week, I am struck by a simple truth – I have as much to learn from kids as they have to learn from me.
In our culture that statement is counterintuitive. As teachers and adults we are paid to impart information and skills that will allow our kids to survive in that culture – a culture I might add that most of us freely admit is sorely lacking in compassion, empathy and respect.
Our current, assembly-line approach to education – a byproduct of the industrial revolution – judges children based on their ability to acquire and use particular kinds of information in very limited ways (think quality control). Standardized testing is then used to assess their progress. No real attempt is made to discover or encourage individual learning differences, interests or strengths.
This approach to education is a lot easier to administer than the one I am proposing. However, I would argue that we continue down this path at our own peril. One has only to look at the many and daunting challenges facing our world today (pollution, poverty, political upheaval, etc.) to know that something needs to change. I believe that change lies in how and what we teach our kids.
Instead of grouping and assessing kids based on standardized tests, let’s look at each child as an individual. Let’s ask, “What interests, excites and makes you eager to learn? How can I help you acquire the basic skills you need to function in the world – which I believe must include the ability to understand, empathize and collaborate with a variety of people? And most important of all, how can I help you discover and develop your own unique vision – the one thing that you and you alone have to give?”
This approach to education requires a radical shift in how we see our roles as teachers. We must be willing to watch and listen to our kids – to let them teach us what and how they need to learn. This doesn’t mean abandoning the basics. Every child must learn to read, write, add, subtract, understand basic biology, etc. The difference lies in how we teach these skills; how we make them relevant, meaningful, and practical. Kids who are both intellectually and emotionally prepared – who like, respect and value themselves and their classmates’ unique contributions – stand a decent chance of becoming the kind of caring, responsible adults we so desperately need.