Man, tests are a lousy way to educate.

Book reference: A New Culture of Learning; Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, Thomas and Brown

I met a science teacher who was frustrated when Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet. She told me it would not appear on the tests that way, and it was unfair to the students that they had to learn two different things. The same issue happened when a country changed its name.

Tests can be re-written. That’s not the problem. The problem is what tests imply about learning, and therefore about teaching. Knowledge is a fluid thing, it lives, breathes, grows, adapts. And the changes in knowledge are happening fast enough that education needs to keep pace.

Some changes happen often and quickly. Technology is that way; politics, business, and popular culture are too. Some changes are so slow; we might claim they don’t change at all. Math would seem to be that way, but ask a mathematician on the edge of research; there are new theories and proofs all the time.

The book gives a telling example” Students were presented with a blank map, and asked to find Iraq. Not very many could. Other students were sat at a computer and asked to find Iraq. 100% did, and offered all sorts of additional information. Smart is different than it used to be. We are not in the information age; we are in the media age.

Let us never think of education in the wheelbarrow-to be dumped-on-a-student mode; the smart person will deliver information on the ignorant person, and then regurgitate it. That horrible process can easily be tested. But it really is not education.

“Education,” can be characterized very simply: change in the learner. Any new or modified behavior, idea, thought, realization; that is learning. Facts in the head are just facts in the head. Being skilled at receiving and regurgitating them may or may not be associated with intelligence or education.

Great education involves inspiring learners. And frankly, some students are already motivated; others need a nudge, or something more. How fast many people teach themselves on computers, with little or no provocation! Many young people have word processing, search, social networking skills far more advanced than their seniors. And when people play online multiplayer games, the players learn fast. And they learn how, what and when they want. Who can say that this is not learning? This kind of learning is fluid. It changes as the information and the technology and the learner change.

Am I saying students should so all their learning with a computer? Part of it, more of it than they do now, yes. That learning would be great! What a fantastic world where every kid learned to their potential, at their own speed. They could learn alone or in a group; through interactive media, such as Skype and Facebook, and through various interactive software (like they do with online games). There’s a lot of good in this idea. Kids learn as they are able. Education is forced to catch up with technology (the rest of the world, frankly). Kids are excited to learn. We get over the “education is memorizing” fallacy. Testing would have to change, but computers can be good at assessment, too.

And there are downsides too. I doubt people are excited about kids spending MORE time in front of a screen. Those damn computers lead to obesity, selfishness, and the misconception that the real world requires cables, transistors and electricity.

The trick is to apply the good methods that computer learning involves, and apply it to the shortcomings. Even if a student loves and has superpowers in certain areas (which computer learning would find and develop), they still need to be well rounded. They all need to read, do math, and be good citizens. They need to have dreams, and to run and stretch.

Students need to succeed in social interaction, and have good character. They need to learn that milk comes from cows, not just grocery stores. They need to walk streets, breathe the air of different cities and natural areas. They need to feel rain, bugs on their skin, meet interesting, unusual, rich, poor, sick and well people. They need to be MORE excited about reality than computers (that is the world they will inherit!), but on track to be masters of both.


About Jim

I've been leading outdoor environmental education in the YMCA since the 1970s. I love teaching nature, history, current events, being a dad, fixing stuff, groups, and general thinking.
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