Saturday, January 19, 2013

Why School? - Worth the Read!

This morning during the #satchat Twitter chat, a tweet was posted that referenced a short book by Will Richardson entitled, Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information are Everywhere. I follow Will Richardson on Twitter and it sounded like an interesting read, so I quickly downloaded it to my nook and started reading after the chat.  It is amazing how a profound statement (or question) can be so eloquently presented in such a concise and thoughtful fashion.

After reading the book, I felt compelled to write a post about it because there are so many points in it that align with my thinking and that challenge it.  The book is DEFINITELY NOT meant to put the mind at ease.  If you are very resistant to change, I would not pick it up.  I suggest you find an old pedagogy textbook from your Foundations of Education class and sit back for a comforting evening of industrial model education. However, if you are interested in thinking about the future (and present) of education, then Richardson's book is for you.

One of the most powerful ideas for me is one of which I am acutely aware.  Schools and teaching cannot remain the same as we move through the 21st Century.  This seems fairly obvious; however, the system within which schools and teachers work does not allow for the kind of change that is needed.  In a competition based, high stakes testing environment, where those in charge of educating the young are evaluated by the number on a standardized test, it is difficult to foster the skills that will be needed to succeed in the world the children are creating and inheriting.

Will Richardson
One of my favorite lines from the book is, "In times of great change, learners will inherit the earth, while the learned will be beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists" (p. 47). This is a premise upon which I have been working for quite some time.  My version has been more of a question: Are we educating children for our past or their future?  I think that it comes down to figuring out what we truly want from schools.  If it is skills for success in the future then we need a fundamental shift in the way that we look at schooling.

Richardson truly hit home with his anecdote regarding the Friday Folder, the essential crux of which is a task completion based idea of education that can be sent home and forgotten in the folder vs. an authentic creation of meaning and skills that would better serve a real audience and the greater good.  These two types of learning are different in every way.  In an information abundant world we should no longer be expecting students to simply "complete" the learning we assign.  We should be learning with them and creating the learning as we move along.  This does not mean that we can throw out curriculum and the expectations that students will learn concepts and skills; but, it does mean that we may need to realize that the learning of information that is "Google-able" will not be enough in the world of the future.  The greater questions are: How do I discern which information is valid and useful? What do I do with the information once I have it?  How can I connect with others to use this information?

Connection with others is a key to the future of education.  We  are connected all the time.  At any moment I have every one of my connections in this world in the palm of my hand and accessible at the push of a button.  This is a resource that cannot and should not be squandered.  How do we effectively leverage that  technology and those human resources for learning?  I am fairly sure that it is not through a competition based model of education, but through a collaboration based model.

I could go on discussing each point in the book; however, I think Why School? is an important discussion starter in figuring out the direction of schools in the future.  If we ignore the message that Richardson is sending, we will find our schools obsolete and not able to educate children effectively for the world in which they must thrive.

I highly recommend this quick read and would love to dialogue with anyone about it here or on twitter @PrincipalArc.

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