Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Old School

Our school's interdisciplinary pilot CBL project has produced a number of unusual issues. Like any first time enterprise we would certainly redesign aspects of the program a second time around.  But I think some of these issues point to broader education challenges. One in particular grinds me: A recurrent gripe that students in an art class (or French or Biology) should not be working on a cafeteria challenge, nor should they be graded on matters like group work, video production, or slide presentations.  This complaint has come in some small, but continual measure from parents and students.  In my professional development sessions, it is reversed.  A minority of teachers wondering how the problem solving, technology, publishing, etc. can "fit" into their course plan.

I think this kind of thinking is becoming more outdated by the day.  These ideas are grounded in the faith that knowledge can still be packaged through courses and delivered to students by subject specialists as they move along the K-20 conveyor belt, yielding the "educated person" at the end of the line.  To me it seems patently obvious that anyone who is merely teaching a "subject" is very replaceable.  The educational system desperately needs teachers who are generalists, hungry to learn about the world as it flattens and we become less dependent on vertical institutions to parcel out expertise as we climb the ladder toward PhD.

I keep wondering how students are going to learn to collaborate, problem solve, take initiative, and learn new technologies if they do not experience this throughout their school experiences.  Some of my colleagues have wondered hopefully whether or not students might not be prepared with these skills in a special ninth grade course.  Even if some kind of magical "course" could impart some of these skills in a meaningful way, isn't it pretty obvious that training in some of technology that is ubiquitous now, will be outdated before the students even leave high school.

In making some of these complaints, I feel like a hypocrite because all of my own innovation has taken place within the department course system.  Even though our school administration is trying push for change in the school culture, the very structure of the curriculum signals to all stakeholders that the way to get an education here is to ride down the conveyor belt just as we did when we were kids and our parents and grandparents before them.  

I can't complain about how far we've come this year in our quest for culture shift. But I can't help fantasizing about shaking off the department/course shackles and teaming with a group of students and teachers who wanted to reshape the curriculum across subjects and take a walk across a school year's wire without a net.

Flickr CC photo by alandd

No comments:

Blog Archive