Or are we here to make them think? To teach them how to make decisions? To guide them to epiphany? To create good citizens?
The authors offer possible reasons why the education system is the way it is today, explaining the history of schools. They go on to explain that while our real needs have changed - from the information age to the innovation age - how we teach and learn has not changed with the times. I understand how they come to this conclusion. We are often confronted with a line graph tracking two lines of data. One is a line of advancements in technology and the like, while the other line displays advancements in education. The latter is relatively flat, while that technology line juts sharply upward. I have always found this graph perplexing. In fact, I believe wholeheartedly that this chart misleads its readers.
Surprisingly, Wagner and Dintersmith acknowledge this to a degree. Still, while rote memorization has some benefits for basic facts like multiplying one-digit numbers, it is no longer a "big deal" to memorize everything under the sun. However, memorization being the method by which many people have been taught in the past, it seems to be the natural go-to method for many of the people in power. At the very least it is the way in which people on the front line tend to interpret any type of standardized curriculum and standards, and it is the way in which we approach standardized testing.
Nationally, we have somehow convinced ourselves that if a child in America went the entirety of K-12 without covering important content (e.g., the Crimean War), that child would suffer irreparable harm. Or, just as bad, if a child moved from Nebraska to Illinois and ended up covering the Crimean War twice, our education framework must be fundamentally flawed. And now the "Common Core" wants to standardize curriculum broadly, trying to ensure that the same content is taught in the same sequence across the country, and that all students are "college ready."
To top it off, that's what administrators and observers then want to see in each classroom. They want to begin a lesson observing in one classroom, then move to other classes in the same "pod" for a continuation and conclusion to the same exact lesson.
They want it to be flawless.
Exactly the same, if that's possible, in each room. That's every teacher, every student, and every lesson the same.
That doesn't seem to be at all like we're assembly line workers building robots, does it?
Each school is its own community, with a unique context. The goals, aspirations, and talents of its students, teachers, and surrounding community shape its purpose. It we want our education system to be dynamic and innovative, we need to respect each school's distinct nature, and give schools the trust and support to determine how best to formulate and achieve a well-thought-our purpose and set of goals. We need to embrace and encourage - not seek to eliminate - local differences in our approach to educating students. That said, we need clarity for the overarching purpose of education, irrespective of local context, and a foundation for putting our students in a position to succeed in life.
So, as for the purpose of education? Perhaps the answer can't be given in a sound-byte. We could simply offer that it is to create better citizens for the future, but that answer also requires definition and clarity. Wagner and Dintersmith pose a question about report cards, wondering if subject area reports (Math, Science, Reading, etc.) might be obsolete in this age of innovation; perhaps instead, they suggest, teachers should report things quite differently.
Critical thinking and problem-solving
I tend to like a list like this, but I can certainly understand the desire to keep things traditional at the same time. If our current system is responsible for ushering the innovation age, then it's probably not something we want to completely throw out with the bathwater. Instead, we might find that a meld of sorts is in order. Our district focuses on certain Core Behaviors to support academics (above, left). Such could fit well with the suggestions of the Most Likely to Succeed authors.
Let this video explain a little more: