Thursday, February 11, 2010

Top Ten Mistakes in Education

A few days ago I read an old post from Pete Reilly's  Ed Tech Journeys regarding Roger Schank and Engines for Education.  

Roger Schank runs Engines for Education, a non-profit organization charged with "creating new learning environments to replace out-dated and wrong-headed educational notions where much of his philosophy, vision and mission for education can be found."  Their focus is on learning environments that foster learning by doing.  He includes a section on his website dealing with the Top Ten Mistakes in Education which I have posted below.

The mistakes he lists and his commentary that follow are worth reading and certainly worth reflection.  They serve as interesting conversation starters for school staff and the constant need to be reminded about our true purpose of education.   Some may feel he swings the pendulum too far in one direction while others will feel like he hits the nail on the head. 
What are the top ten mistakes in education?

Mistake #1: Schools act as if learning can be disassociated from doing.
There really is no learning without doing. There is the appearance of learning without doing when we ask children to memorize stuff. But adults know that they learn best on the job, from experience, by trying things out. Children learn best that way, too. If there is nothing to actually do in a subject area we want to teach children it may be the case that there really isn't anything that children ought to learn in that subject area.
Mistake #2: Schools believe they have the job of assessment as part of their natural role.
Assessment is not the job of the schools. Products ought to be assessed by the buyer of those products, not the producer of those products. Let the schools do the best job they can and then let the buyer beware. Schools must concentrate on learning and teaching, not testing and comparing.
Mistake #3: Schools believe they have an obligation to create standard curricula.
Why should everyone know the same stuff? What a dull world it would be if everyone knew only the same material. Let children choose where they want to go, and with proper guidance they will choose well and create an alive and diverse society.
Mistake #4: Teachers believe they ought to tell students what they think it is important to know.
There isn't all that much that it is important to know. There is a lot that it is important to know how to do, however. Teachers should help students figure out how to do stuff the students actually want to do.
Mistake #5: Schools believe instruction can be independent of motivation for actual use.
We really have to get over the idea that some stuff is just worth knowing even if you never do anything with it. Human memories happily erase stuff that has no purpose, so why try to fill up children's heads with such stuff? Concentrate on figuring out why someone would ever want to know something before you teach it, and teach the reason, in a way that can be believed, at the same time.
Mistake #6: Schools believe studying is an important part of learning.
Practice is an important part of learning, not studying. Studying is a complete waste of time. No one ever remembers the stuff they cram into their heads the night before the exam, so why do it? Practice, on the other hand, makes perfect. But, you have to be practicing a skill that you actually want to know how to perform.
Mistake #7: Schools believe that grading according to age group is an intrinsic part of the organization of a school.
This is just a historical accident and it's a terrible idea. Age-grouped grades are one of the principal sources of terror for children in school, because they are always feeling they are not as good as someone else or better than someone else, and so on. Such comparisons and other social problems caused by age-similar grades cause many a child to have terrible confidence problems. Allowing students to help those who are younger, on the other hand, works well for both parties.
Mistake #8: Schools believe children will accomplish things only by having grades to strive for.
Grades serve as motivation for some children, but not for all. Some children get very frustrated by the arbitrary use of power represented by grades and simply give up.
Mistake #9: Schools believe discipline is an inherent part of learning.
Old people especially believe this, probably because schools were seriously rigid and uptight in their day. The threat of a ruler across the head makes children anxious and quiet. It does not make them learn. It makes them afraid to fail, which is a different thing altogether.
Mistake #10: Schools believe students have a basic interest in learning whatever it is schools decide to teach to them.
What kid would choose learning mathematics over learning about animals, trucks, sports, or whatever? Is there one? Good. Then, teach him mathematics. Leave the other children alone.

1 comment:

  1. Not sure I agree with all of these "mistakes". Depends on how you define "study". Much has been discovered and built upon in the name of "study". Think if Watson and Crick had never studied the cell. What if Isaac Newton hadn't studied the heavens. What if astronauts had not studied the manuals before lift off? Also, many "ahas" have come after applying the dedication and discipline of "study" to tasks that are sometimes seem meaningless and unproductive. We sometimes mustt acquire knowledge in subjects that lay a foundation to build upon later. Even though I never use calculus, my mind was exercised in a way that it never would have been if I hadn't "studied" it and succeeding . I understood calculus not by "cramming" it into my brain, but by "studying" it. I actually used it in my class, received a high enough score on my achievement test so that I did not have to take math in college. I still remember the satisfaction of actually understanding calculus. Even though I didn't WANT to learn it, I trusted my school, my teachers that determined the curriculum. I am glad that I was required to learn and do things that I did not want to do. Now I know that in ANY field I pursue out of interest, I will encounter areas that are unpleasant and uninteresting. I learned in school that you have to push through unpleasant tasks to get to deeper levels of understanding. I fear that the generation of students who think that life is easy and that one has only to "practice what they "WANT" to learn are destined to give up and will quickly lose their initial passion as soon as they face the obstacle of any challenge to their motivation. At the first sign of discouragement they might give up.