I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate by Suli Breaks. This is an eloquent and articulate rant on what’s wrong with school from the perspective of a young adult:

  • Why do I have to study subjects that I will never ever have to use in my life?
  • Will this stuff ever help me in my job?
  • Why are individuals who think differently and learn differently judged by standardized tests?

It’s worth 5 minutes of your life. I’ll wait.

(Hat tip to Michael Carty and Neil Morrison)

I posted the video on Facebook and received this thoughtful response from Paul Hebert:

I agree that the process of education in our society has to change to reflect the changes in our society. Education fuels what we do to earn a living, how we contribute, and ultimately enables our ability to feel fulfilled, happy and content in our lives. That process is mired in an industrial mindset I don’t believe is valid any more.

That said…

To say that there is no need for a basic understanding of mathematics and science because we don’t use them everyday is like saying there is no need to run or lift weights because we don’t use our muscles like that every day. Knowledge provides context and opportunity. It gives us a baseline to jump from.

Without a foundation, creating new ideas is extremely difficult. The ability to tie together disparate ideas into a new concept is key to creativity and growth. But if you don’t learn some of the basics (and we can argue over what those should be I guess) you can’t create at the level you are capable of.

They are both right.

Our education system is broken. And kids do need to learn fundamental skills like reading, writing, math, and science.

But the way we teach them completely sucks, and what we are teaching is stupid.

I taught Montessori school for awhile. The classroom was set up to be full of learning opportunities. Kids learned math by building and cooking, language by storytelling and playing with sounds, letters and words. They also learned gardening, animal care, table setting, manners, sewing, cleaning, singing, and how to make stuff up when you’re bored or just want to see what happens. Each kid learned at her own pace. When she accomplished one thing, she moved on to another, because it was interesting.

Now I teach law school. The same principles apply. When students learn it themselves, instead of having it inserted through a feeding tube, they get skills and experience not just information.

Teaching fundamentals does not have to be about the fundamentals. There is no reason we can’t teach math with cooking, logic with computer games, physics with baseball, and reading with trading cards.

Okay, there’s one reason. You can’t test this kind of learning with standardized tests and fill-in-the-dot questions. Education is an industry with very powerful interests. The textbook suppliers come out with a new set of books, convince legislatures to buy them, force everyone to use them, and then, before there’s really time to see if they’re any good, introduce the next set. Politicians are too afraid to reject all this nonsense because education is important to voters, and teachers unions matter in elections.

The result is teachers and kids are stuck doing boring stuff, with bad materials, so kids can can take tests, which dictate funds for education, so teachers can keep their jobs. Disfunction Junction.

Did you know that they still teach cursive in public schools? Art, music, and drama programs are being cut because of lack of time and resources. But our kids still spend years learning cursive.

So What Should Kids Learn?

First, we need to teach children how to think, not what to remember.

Nobody needs to know how to find information or to remember anything. But they do need to learn how to find information more effectively – how to ask a good question. Then, they need to learn to evaluate what they find for importance, relevance, and bullshit.

We also need to teach:

Design– so you can come up with new approaches, see things from different perspectives, and ask really good questions.

Information theory— so they can understand data and statistics, how they are manipulated, how to interpret them, and how to make sense of the world.

Philosophy— logic, ethics, rhetoric, how we know things, and especially, how to ask why, and never stop asking.

Storytelling – what makes a good story, what makes it effective or persuasive, how to write about events and people, how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from someone else’s perspective.

How to Disagree– how to not get your way and get over it, how to negotiate for what you want, how to compromise, how to speak up and be heard, when to give up, when to fight for what you believe in.

How to Make Stuff Up— if you don’t know what to do next, make it up. If you are imagining something cool, make it. Believe in your imagination. We are so far beyond the time when inventions had to be a thing. With computers we can create almost anything we can imagine, and a bunch of stuff we haven’t thought of yet.

Sure, this sounds Diffendoofer. But children’s authors get things right most of time because they don’t care about standardized tests.

What we don’t need to do is teach kids skills based on specific jobs. Most of the jobs our kids will do haven’t been invented yet, or won’t look anything like they do today. So we really don’t know what they’ll be doing or how they’ll be doing it.

Instead, we need to teach them how to see problems clearly, ask really good questions, think with creativity and imagination, communicate through words, pictures, sound, and motion, and have courage to try new things.

And today, the best way to do that is to make them play video games. Sorry guys, no worksheets until you finish Bioshock Infinite.