Today is 3/14/16 and when written 3.14 it becomes the start to Pi Day…the formula for finding the circumference of a circle. It could also be Key Lime Pie Day or Blueberry Pie Day or even Pie in the Sky Day. But most importantly it is another day in the trenches for millions of children as they they struggle to go to school to learn. In many schools the learning is joyful and productive, but in other schools, the learning amounts to trench warfare where teachers are in a contest against students for who can last until the bell rings before losing their minds.
And are we any closer to resolving racial disparity? NO. In a recent article in Slate Magazine, five elite high schools in five different cities showed their non-representational admission profiles where the cities they represent are more diverse than the student body they admit. These are troubling times and may be getting worse.
I have argued that we are in a period of change that is so large we cannot fully see it. The evidence for this change is the antiquated way in which we teach, the insistence of coverage of material in rigid definitions of courses, and the faulty assumption that we know how to measure learning with standardized tests. Even in the best schools there can be a sort of role playing where it looks like learning is really happening but in reality students are shaking their heads in disbelief about the irrelevant materials they are constantly exposed to.
So let’s take a look at what could be, with the hope that this is not Pie in the Sky Day thinking, and in the form of a prescription for change: Take K-8 schools, fully integrate the subjects, make art and creativity be the center of the student’s work and unify the curriculum only to the point of agreement that this is what must happen, and allow the teachers to make it happen. Take high schools, 9-12, and turn them into labs for learning, where projects are the norm, deeper thinking is encouraged and field work is central. Let these students go out and apprentice, observe, participate and learn about the real world. For all grades, create a new form of assessment based on individual progress, allow standards to help guide student work but not penalize them, and be sure everyone can give the definition for what work is good enough. Do a much better job of integrating athletics, body/mind connections, yoga, and healthy living. Finally, make the goal of K-12 to deliver a relevant education so that we can deliver citizens ready to participate in our democracy. Let college take care of itself.
If we don’t make school more essential to living, living will take us away from school. Let’s go and fix this now.