Friday, December 10, 2010

How Many Light Bulbs Does It Take to Screw Up a School?

Diane Ravitch -- the one-time champion of standardized testing -- now believes that "at the present time public education is in peril."  Schools, she insists, must be infused with "the substance of genuine learning" (i.e., learning for its own sake and NOT for the sake of a one- size-fits-all standardized test).  She calls for schools that "raise questions...explore controversies and encourage the use of primary source documents."  How well does New Trier do this? What adults in your life exhibit the sort of life skills and intellectual habits and emotional gifts that you would like to possess? Where were such qualities learned?

Or you might look at this another way. At last month's Institute Day, our keynote speaker Ron Ritchhart asked teachers, What do you hope your students will become as adults?  Underlying this question is the perhaps more basic question of why we are in school in the first place. Aside from, say, state law compelling you to be in school (!), what do you hope to get out of your high school education?  What impact beyond college admission do you hope your schooling will have on your future? What are the personal and intellectual characteristics (dispositions, Ritchhart would call them) that you most hope to possess? Where do you imagine you will you learn these dispositions? 

Look beyond some basic "content knowledge" (You might, for example, want to know how to calculate a tip at a restaurant or remember that a preposition is something you do NOT want to end a sentence with!). But what else can/should schools provide? To what extent should schools concern themselves with challenging your beliefs? Fostering independence? Problem solving? Practicing creativity? Teaching democratic values?  Learning to understand our emotional life?

These are huge topics, I realize. It might help for you to talk to parents and friends about these issues. Do they share your hopes for your education in school? In fact, you might also invite your parents to contribute their thoughts in addition to your own.


Bob P said...

I believe that one of the biggest ways to get to students infused with "the substance of genuine learning" is to create an environment where risk taking (especially inserting a personal voice that might not go strictly along with the rubric) is encouraged. In schools around the country almost every assignment is given back to students with a final grade. This grade usually represents how well the student followed the rubric or memorized certain facts, but this grade discourages risk taking. If a student strays outside the given parameters then there is a risk of having the grade brought down. "Just to be safe" the students go with the rubric and do not opt to take that risk. This would imply that if grades are taken away, then it would improve the situation. This is not entirely practical. However, if each assignment is thought of as a process rather than a deadline the problem can be resolved. If students are given an opportunity to revise their work, and improve their grade then risk taking becomes much less risky. Students can start to feel comfortable to stray away from the rubric, and put into their work a personal voice that might otherwise not have been expressed. This way learning becomes relative to an individual.

Kristen O. said...

"What else, beyond content knowledge, should schools supply?" I think that the main goal schools should have is to give students the ability and the desire to continue learning throughout life, and to continue challenging themselves. After high school, or college, many people are forced into jobs that don't require much thought or effort, and they simply coast through life without learning anything new. That seems to be a pretty boring and effortless way to live. As a screenwriter, my dad is constantly working on something new, and is constantly challenging himself. His job relies on creativity and passion, things that are not commonly "taught" at school. With each script comes a new challenge to overcome, and new things to learn, and this lets him continue to grow as a writer. I hope that after school, I will also possess that desire to continue to learn and challenge myself, and I think that schools should start to focus on helping students achieve that passion for learning as well.

Glenna said...

I think that everyone hopes graduation is not our final day of learning. To answer the question "What do you hope to get out of your high school education?", I must say that I do not hope for anything special that I don't hope for in the rest of my life. That is, push my limits so that accomplishments feel that much more satisfying and failures feel that much more compelling. Those failures, which will inevitably abound, will make me want to try again. Like you said, Kristen, school should provide opprotunity for experience but not necessarily direct those experiences.

Jackie said...

Kristen has a great point: "His job relies on creativity and passion, things that are not commonly "taught" at school." I believe school should teach students important subjects that they need to know, while still allowing students to take courses that they are really passionate about. I also agree with Bob when he says "one of the biggest ways to get to students infused with "the substance of genuine learning" is to create an environment where risk taking (especially inserting a personal voice that might not go strictly along with the rubric) is encouraged." I think risk-taking and being challenged is a huge component of furthering one's intelligence and education. I've had teachers in the past, particularly junior high, who would only give you a good grade if you followed their style of writing or projects. There was never any room for us to tap deeper into ourselves and be a little creative with what we did. We always had to follow a rubric. Sometimes breaking away from that set of rules and procedures can help a student absorb information better and actually enjoy what they're doing.

Brooks W said...

I, like Jackie, agree with Bob's comment that an "environment where risk-taking is encouraged" allows students to embrace their creativity. I, too, have had teachers who grade strictly based on a rubric, and thus leaving no room for students to be creative and passionate with their writing or project. What I hope to get out of my high school education is not the knowledge of "how do I write this paper to match the writing style of this teacher", but something of more importance. I think a high school education, or education in general, should not be defined by the grades. There is so much more to learning the grades. How can a simple letter really reflect the depth of a student's knowledge? I hope that after graduation, I possess the desire to continue to actually learn (as opposed to learning to adapt to a teacher's writing preference). I hope that I will have a lifelong appreciation of learning, which comes from taking risks. Sometimes you have to fail before you can succeed.

Reed said...

Out of all the questions in this post, the one that drew my attention was "What do you hope to get out of your high school education?" Even still I don't know what I am hoping or expecting to take away. There is always the hope that my high school experience will propel me into a prestigious college, but I don't feel that is the most important thing o take out of high school. As a freshman, I thought high school was all about grades. Maybe that diffused from my middle school experience, where only grades mattered. As a sophomore, and now junior, my view has broadened. At this moment, I feel that high school is meant to serve as a foundation for the rest of my life. I hope to realize what i like learning about, and realize what I am not so passionate about. I still care about my grades, but more has come into the equation now. So I guess my brief answer to the question posed above is that I hope to find what I am passionate about, but that hope could easily change before graduation

Chlo Scho said...

I fell like all of us get so distracted by the rat race of high school that we don't know why we even want to go. It's good to take time like this (if you have any) and reflect on why our education through this system is so important besides reaching post-secondary education. Granted, I am not the best person to be saying this because my current view on high school is how can I get an A on an hourly basis, but that's not the best thing in the world. I just blogged about this very same thing and the effects it has on our holiday spirit if you wanna check that out. I think that the competition that the current education system has created isn't necessarily the best thing, but I don't know how I would change it.

Remy said...

The high school community needs to first and foremost teach the importance of taking pleasure in being a lifelong student. Being educated in our society means you are more likely to have a job, and less likely to spend time in jail. Our unemployment rate is the United States currently averages about 9.5%, but if you have graduated from college the unemployment rate is 5% and if you DO NOT graduate from high school, the unemployment rate is over 18%!

Remember automation in the 20th century where machines and processes made us more efficient and took over for mundane, unskilled tasks? Great for our economy during that period of change but now it puts our uneducated at a huge disadvantage. As globalization continues our uneducated become even more disadvantaged since unskilled labor is much cheaper in developing countries than in the United States. 

The confluence of less value for unskilled labor and a lack of interest in, and effort to work for, more education in the US, almost guarantees polarization in the standard of living between those who are interested in learning and those who are not. 

This means teachers engaging students, students learning to enjoy working at studying, and parents supporting the process is the most important thing our high school education should provide.  More of us having more passion to continually learn is of paramount importance to our society.   

Oh, and learning a little English, Math, History, Science, Language, and Social Studies is a good start too! 

-Remy's Dad  

Chloe said...

There are two things that I think often get lost in school education,
especially when teaching "to the test" with rigorous guidelines for
grading. One is finding your passion, or perhaps even more important,
finding a way to be passionate about that which you are called on to
do. The other is creating an opportunity for students to see how they can
"make a difference".

Both of these things can be assisted by exposure to people with
experience. One way to achieve this would be better use of guest teachers
for one or two days of classes. For instance, there is no better way
to get insight into passion for mathematics, than to listen to someone
who has that passion.

And as many of us older folks have learned, it is more common than we
used to think, for one person to make a positive impact on the lives
of others. That is what teaching is about, what engineering is about,
what medicine is about. Simply, how can each of us make a positive
impact on the lives of others? Maybe lot of others, maybe one other.

New Trier is blessed to be in a community of many such experienced people.

- Chloe D.'s Dad