A New Way To Educate

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Background
A school’s fundamental principles ought to be to educate and enrich its students. It should be to inspire them and cultivate wisdom within. Students today are taught the value of education as a means to an end, rather than as an important tool for discovery, enrichment and societal improvement. Projects undertaken in American classes are designed to prepare students to “take the easy way out” and pass tests based on misguided federal regulation, and to an extent, prejudice and stereo-typification. A student’s education has become a political scheme that disengages the students, parents and many good teachers from the entire process, resulting in a continuation of status quo policy, “pass the buck” attitude and a lack of real participation in education.
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Students are more likely in American schools to use the public education system experience to engage in social functions unrelated to education. This, however, does not mean that they aren’t seeking an education. Students today aren’t stupid or disconnected as many may think (and they may not even be suffering from many conditions such as “ADHD” they’ve been labeled). They know perfectly well where they fit into the picture. Many teachers have probably heard this line before: “When am I ever going to use this information in real life?” You already know the answer, but the answer isn’t so simple to provide because you were educated the same way they were, and thus didn’t realize the value of certain types of information until later in life. Context of information is important to children. What’s also important is their role in society, their own aspirations and how those things are connected. If they feel disenfranchised by the rigid limitations of the institution, they will seek another way - sometimes positive, all too often negative.

Critical to the development of a real education are critical thinking and imagination, two concepts that have been on the back burner in public education for far too long. It is imperative for a society that seeks to empower all of its members to promote an education of imagination, criticism and provocation. In other words, if you want students to debate, give them a reason. The questions we need to answer are these: What incentive do children have to succeed, both as individuals and as members of society? Why is this important? Who are the stakeholders? How is the so-called education relevant to their lives as individuals? If our students had the answers to these questions, their notions of what makes their education important would be evident in their own individual aspirations. This is what we must embrace as educators, parents, influencers and policy-makers.

We must also ask, however, what ways are best to present these concepts and how can they be tailored to the needs of individual students?

New Ideas
A new school system that provided for the facilitation of an actual education would require a change in how we think about systems, entirely.

The only way a student, or anyone for that matter, can see themselves transcending a role or identity that society has forced upon them, is to reject this prejudice thinking (which is much easier said than done, especially when those around you reinforce the same ideas) or to be shown another way by a mentor or teacher. The world needs to be full of stories of lives changed by a mentor or teacher.
Teachers today feel the burden of being both a guardian and an educator. Parents are feeling the pressure, too, as they are working longer hours and spending less time with their children altogether, let alone helping them with their studies. Children today live in many worlds at once, with a million distractions and influences coexisting and overlapping each. How do we really focus on educating students if we don’t really know what we are educating them for? None of us are fortune tellers, but the clues are actually in the students themselves. We always say they are the future, but none of us really know what that future will be, even though we like to think we are trying to help shape it for them. The truth is, we are merely influencers. They will ultimately make their own choices for their own individual or collective reasons. Do students really believe that having all the right answers to questions and tests and obtaining a piece of paper stating their educational status will really improve their lives? We know better and so do they.

The job of an educator ought be to probe those reasons and choices and identify with what the student identifies with. What are the students thoughts on their relationship to the lessons, the data, the context, the society, the government, industry, etc.? How do they believe this information relates to their own choices and to what they decide to learn? How do they choose to explore their worlds and why? Who do they look to for advice and why? What skills do they have and what needs improvement in relation to their own personal goals? These basic evaluations can make a huge difference in the determination of a curriculum for students, and can help create incentive.

Presenting the information is just as important as studying it, it seems. History, language, mathematics and science all have their own methods and context as subjects for students. However, students often have a subject preference or even a teacher preference. There is a relationship between the presentation of ideas and their comprehension. This is evidenced by the adoption of many Asian styles of teaching mathematics, where more visual models are represented. User design shouldn’t just encompass software products. It can be applied to nearly any field with great success. We must ask ourselves the following question: How do present information to students to give them more context and comprehension of a given subject matter? When a student is empowered by learning a new concept, it is much more likely they will retain this information because they have pride in their accomplishment and they will understand how to apply it in the real world.

Once educators have a grasp on how students learn and what their incentives are to do so, they will have a much easier time implementing a system that adheres to a doctrine of open learning where imagination, critical thinking and debate take precedent. There is no real need to train children on social behavior. They are smart enough to figure that out on their own. It will be more important for educators to positively influence students through active participation and engagement with them as collaborators in a shared environment.

The Environment
A new school that could accomplish what has been implied above would need to have the right conditions, culture and environment to facilitate those goals. It would need to borrow strategies and ideas from the worlds of social sciences, technology, community organizing and industry to be given a chance to succeed.

Teachers would not simply create a generic lesson plan developed as a staging area for passing tests. They would be encouraged to evaluate the beliefs, attitudes and aspirations of their students in an effort to develop a curriculum that meets their criteria within the realm of reality (you couldn’t obviously encourage the idea of becoming a professional dinosaur, for example). Teachers would, in effect, become like counselors, mentors and educators combined. This would likely help the teachers in ways not yet thought of.

Projects developed for group learning purposes should have a clear purpose, goal and framework for that student group’s interests, goals and skill areas. Each project should actually produce something of real value. This method could have longer lasting impact on students, parents, educators, industry, government, the community as a whole, even the larger world in context.

Students should be invited to question concepts regularly and be encouraged to develop alternative ideas to common problems. This would reinforce their relationship to education as well as foster innovation and engagement in the learning process.

Summary
A proposal of this nature would, in the current political and institutional era, not be likely to gain traction as it is controversial and critical of the establishment. It is much more likely to succeed with locally involved stakeholders such as parents, students, teachers, businesses and organizations. A school with this philosophy would likely only exist outside the typical public education system due to regulatory conditions and other legal matters regarding school districting.

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