An 'Old' Dawn for Education

There is a constant tension in modern education. Two asks come from the same master, each in stark conflict with the other. Society writ large employs educators and also implores educators to help our rapidly changing society by developing a legion of students who are self-starting, critical thinking, problem solvers (among other ‘success-factor’ skills such as collaboration, innovation, and creativity).

Yet, that very same society has settled on an understanding that the ‘count of efficiency’ for education can be best measured by tallying percentage increases and decreases on tests and exams. This is like measuring a singing audition by evaluating a picture of the singer, or counting the beans in the wrong jar.

This contradiction sets us all up for education burn-out: students become less and less engaged as each year of their schooling passes; teachers teaching the success-factor skill sets either do so brazenly and face concern from others for not focusing on exam results, or they do so with quiet guilt knowing that each moment developing the citizens of the future is a moment taken away from exam preparation; schools and districts do what they are told and measure and measure some more – except they are not by and large measuring the skills needed by students of the future; and, the department of education stands by its old standards, regulations, policies, and procedures; politicians? They rarely take chances with votes, and so little changes.

Educators are amazing people. Can we not trust them to teach deeply, actively, and with authenticity?

Perhaps an old dawn might come soon though. Seth Godin in his book Linchpin writes in metaphor about the last 100 000 years of human existence. He describes that if 400 quarters were stacked one on top of the other to represent this last 100 000 years of human existence, the 400th quarter is notably different. It represents the dawn of industrialization.

It was during the last 25 cents worth of human history that society made the educational model we have now, and it was built to create standardized workers for the growing industrial machine. Previously, we educated socially, by collecting and curating knowledge to pass along, through experience, to the next generation. As a species we have historically learned differently – more authentically and through active experience – than we have in the last 200 or so years.

Maybe society shouldn’t look to a new dawn for education when we return to the classroom, but with hope we might look to the return of an old dawn where we valued humanly intrinsic ways of passing on knowledge and valued the humanity and understanding of those who educate.

This will require a shift and a placing of deep trust in educators’ ability to do the right thing. Active, authentic, time-tested methods of knowing could be an old dawn to the start of a brave new day.

Dr. Ross Leadbetter, CEO iHub Learning Inc.

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