Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Purpose of School - It's Not What Bill Gates or the Chamber of Commerce Says

In regards to a Most Likely to Succeed, documentary film on the purpose of public education, I may be a bit late to the discussion. But I am intrigued by the work and goal of Ted Dintersmith, a former venture capitalist who is challenging the conventional notion of school and asking questions beyond the myopic focus of corporate education reform that just promotes skills and thinking that can be tested to gauge a student's "readiness" for a workplace cubicule.

In a couple of pieces for the Washington Post, we have been introduced to the man behind Most Likely to Succeed, who is promoting a fresh look at schooling that moves beyond the 19th century focus of preparing kids for manufacturing jobs. In a September profile, Valerie Strauss introduced him in "Not Bill Gates: Meet Ted Dintersmith," which framed the work of a man who is following the path of people like Tony Wagner and Sir Ken Robinson who are merely seeking to move education beyond the standard factory model.

The over-arching message of the film is that students and teachers should be given the latitude and trust to define their own approach to learning. So I hope other schools don’t just copy what they see in the film, but are inspired to come up with bold and innovative learning experiences that leverage the talents and passions of the students and teachers involved. That said, there are a few key principles you see in the film that are applicable to all schools and classrooms. Students have a large role in defining and managing their learning. Classrooms center around peer-interaction, not on a lecture model with the teacher doing most/all of the talking. Students are encouraged to make decisions, try bold approaches, experience failure, and given a chance to rebound. Students are assessed on the basis of a public display of achievement. Students provide feedback and constructive criticism of each other, and play a big role in the assessment process. These are the things I hope find their way into other schools.

And in a more comprehensive look at his goals and actions, we learned what happens when "A Venture Capitalist Searches for the Purpose of Education":

And then it hit me, full force. The most innovative country on the planet is blowing it. As we move full swing into an era of innovation, the United States should be educating to our creative strengths, but instead we’re eroding the very characteristics that will enable our kids to thrive. We’re setting kids up for a life without passion, purpose, or meaningful employment. Absent profound change, our country is a decade away from having 50 million chronically-unemployed young adults, adrift in life and awash in debt.
I was now fully consumed with this cause. I stepped up my pace, criss-crossing the country to visit schools and gain perspective. I was in hot pursuit of the right answer to the question: “What is the purpose of school?” Everywhere I looked — mission statements, meetings with school leaders, websites — I’d find sensible, even inspiring, purposes:
  • teach students cognitive and social skills
  • teach students to think
  • build character and soul
  • help students in a process of self-discovery
  • prepare students to be responsible, contributing citizens
  • inspire students through the study of humanity’s great works
  • prepare students for productive careers

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