When I was in college, working on a project for one of my library science classes, I wrote a proposal for educational reform. Thirty years ago (gulp) it seemed to me that school didn’t work very well … at least not for me. I was certain I couldn’t be the only person to feel this way.
Around fifth grade, with a brief respite for a brilliant sixth grade teacher, and then through twelfth grade, I went through the paces, finishing my schoolwork, completing my assignments, but my report cards consistently said, “doesn’t work at her full potential.” Instead, I had a secret life of studying. I would find a topic in school that intrigued me and I’d check out every book in the library, reading as much as I could, asking questions of anyone likely to answer, drawing diagrams and maps, and storing things away in files for some time in the future. I cut photos out of magazines and made long lists of things I wanted to know. Very little of this intense study intersected with my schoolwork.
I proposed that education be re-made to be a lifelong, integrated part of our daily habits. Learning would organize itself around people who were interested in studying certain subjects and those study groups would be comprised of people from age 8 to 80. The young and the old have much to learn from each other. An eight-year-old will ask questions that wouldn’t occur to an 80-year-old. An 80-year-old may have the experience and contacts to track down information. My professor asked if education would be a requirement for everyone. That’s a tough one to answer. Would some people need encouragement to satisfy their curiosities?
If a like-minded group wanted to explore building a more efficient engine, say they studied the history of combustion engines, looked at the experiments of various engineers, examined the work of artists who involve machine parts, studied the effects of cooking asparagus by different means, and took field trips to observe naturally-occurring efficiencies … what might they discover that hadn’t been looked at before?
What does this have to do with reading? We all know that reading interests and skills drop off for a large number of students as they get older. What if education didn’t happen in the way it does now? What if it were completely different? What if everyone pursued only the topics they are interested in, when they’re interested in them? What if they sought out people of all ages with like interests to collaborate with as they investigate and learn and create and store knowledge that makes them feel satisfied? It may not be that we need to have a problem with reading, it may be what and where and how and why we are asking young people to read.
We’d need librarians and educators, of course, because it’s essential to be guided by people who have a broad knowledge of where to find things and how they fit together. It seems to me that those disciplines might find it exciting to contemplate how this type of learning would enable them to freely adapt their own interests and talents to helping others learn.
Standardized testing … conformity … changing the paradigm
A couple of weeks ago, I was thrilled to view the video below, a recording by the RSA, the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, and specifically by Sir Ken Robinson, a professor of education and a leader in the fields of creativity and innovation. I could go on, but Sir Ken Robinson is quite eloquent about all of this.
Here’s the video that makes every cell in my brain and body vibrate with the possibilities. Watch this and I believe you will never think about education in quite the same way again. Let me know what you think.