Monday, April 18, 2011

My Favorite Modern Educational Revolutionaries

A colleague and I often discuss how much simpler education should be. We talk about how music, fine arts, and creativity are (some, not all) school reformers' red-headed step child. How teachers (some, not all) should be teaching kids to be learners rather than filling them with facts and hoping they remember. Why teachers (some, not all) are still practicing under the belief that they are the only source of information their students have when we are so clearly not?

We also discuss how slowly real change will occur if policy makers continue to emphasize the importance of standardized testing.

How do we rank among the other developed nations of the world?--let's look at test scores.
Are students learning?--let's look at test scores.
Are teachers effective?--let's look at test scores. 
Are charter schools better than public schools?--let's look at test scores. 
Does a school deserve funding?--let's look at test scores.
(Notice a pattern here?)


Policy makers know best. Surely standardized test scores, and the subsequent, "teaching to the test" are the right paths we need to tread in order for our students to become globally competitive. Let's measure a teacher's effectiveness with standardized tests and then, if the tests scores are high enough, let's pay them more, even though we know full well that each classroom of students is vastly different. That will surely solve everything!

Not so fast.

Enter stage left, my top three modern-day educational revolutionaries: Sir Ken Robinson, Will Richardson, and Alfie Kohn. I appreciate these guys because I agree with them. They make sense to me. They push my thinking. It's because of them that I find myself in the midst of a complete teaching transformation--a renewal.

Sir Ken Robinson
Let me begin with Sir Ken. I was first introduced to Sir Ken through his TED Talk about how an antiquated educational system is teaching students out of their inherent creativity (see video below).

In his presentation I heard things that struck me to the core as an educator. It confirmed my suspicions that we are over-emphasizing "testable" areas of education and under-emphasizing areas that matter just as much as reading, writing, and arithmetic. When I was done listening to his words, I asked myself, "What am I doing?".

Alfie Kohn
Alfie Kohn is an educational researcher and author of several books on education policy. I first heard about Alfie while taking a class in my undergraduate studies. I was intrigued by his book, Punished By Rewards, which took a shot at the reasoning behind giving students grades. Alfie is known for attacking educational practices that aren't substantiated by research, yet passed off as if they were. He speaks against the misrepresentation of educators, a fierce defender of what is best for kids, and questions why current "school reform" isn't working. (Listen to this radio interview).

Several years later I got to hear Alfie speak in Kentwood, Michigan. He spoke about homework, rather the needlessness of homework, based on his book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Are Getting Too Much of a Bad Thing. After his presentation, I asked myself, "What am I doing?". 

Will Richardson
Last, but certainly not least, is Will Richardson. Will is the author of the book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools, speaker, and expert blogger on how education can be changed for the better. He came to my school district to talk about leveraging technology in the classroom, and how to push students into becoming creators, not just consumers, of information.  Will was one of the first teachers to use blogging in the classroom. I was inspired by his passionate counseling of "You can do this. Why aren't you doing this?"

Will is a forward thinker who demands that education, as we know it, should change--needs to change.  He pushes against educational dogma. Why standardized tests? Why standardized standards? Are all students in all of the states alike? (watch this video). After listening to his talk at my school, and reading his blog posts on Weblogg-ed I ask myself, "What am I doing?".

What I truly appreciate about all three men is they are looking beyond standardized tests (rightly so) as the key to improving education.  What's more, they are fighting the good fight on our behalf. They ask: Why are the policy makers, in a vain attempt at measuring learning on a state, national, and global scale, mandating ideas that do not work? Why are the few (who aren't teachers by the way) driving the policies that many must follow with very little input from the people in the trenches?

Keep it simple. Let's teach the child. Let's hear from the teachers.

Noticing a pattern here? That's why I appreciate them.

1 comment:

Will Richardson said...

Wow. Thanks Jason. That's very kind, and I really appreciate the acknowledgement, especially in such amazing company. Best of luck in you work to move the needle on the conversation for change.