Remember The Force
OK. It was inevitable that someone would utter two words that are tantamount to blasphemy in the hallowed temples of learning: “Why School?” But that is just what Will Richardson has done with the title of his affordable and accessible e-book, a fascinating read. When conditions are ripe, powerful voices of change will ring out. Will Richardson has one of those voices.
Make no mistake: I am not advocating the abolition of school, and neither is Richardson. Nevertheless, as concerned educators, we must come to grips with the fact that kids can, on their own, ignite their own passion, and learn more effectively with electronic resources that are readily at hand-- (see Thomas and Brown). If our schools do not keep pace, and change in a major way, then education will go the way of the dinosaurs. Do we really want to see our educational institutions come crashing down?
The impact of technology on culture—accelerating cultural change at a dizzying pace-- clearly demonstrates that we would be far wiser to guide the powerful forces of change, than to try to legislate, or hold them hostage. So… remember to use the force.
Must Learning Be Boring? Why Not Ask, How Can We Make Classrooms and Homework Fun?
How many of you adults, when you were growing up, were forced by your parents to turn off the tube, and get back to your homework? Is that because television is often more stimulating? Sure, but must that remain so, forevermore? Can’t we extract the useful aspects of multimedia, and leave the rest? Of course we can.
Learning should be ignited by passion for learning and mastery, combined with equal measures of healthy competition and playfulness. Dopamine, and the power of habit, are powerful drivers of both individual and group achievement.
Bold, progressive, creative, outside-the-box thinkers can, in a heartbeat, catalyze an idea that has been brewing for the longest time, but that few have previously articulated in just the right way. But meaningful change requires more: it also requires channeling the powerful forces that can make this happen.
That is not what we have been doing when we teach to the test. We force kids to sit in those horrible little desks, threaten them with exams, and then proceed to bore them to death. We all know that, because we’ve all “been there, and done that.”
Are we now at a tipping point for education?
These are tough times for teachers, for students, for parents. Budget cuts, classroom size increases, pressures to teach to the test, scapegoating of teachers—all these forces have driven many of the best and brightest teachers right out of the classroom. But right alongside these educational horror stories are voices of hope-- echoed by Richardson. “This is just the coolest moment to be a learner right now, isn’t it? In this moment, our kids can learn pretty much whatever they want, whenever they want. And it is a big shift that as educators, we have to begin to understand.” E-learning technologies will become the coin of the realm. Will we have the wisdom to embrace genuine, thoroughgoing change in the ways we try to educate our kids? (Breaking News: E-Learning Technologies Empower Kids to Educate Themselves).
Real change punctuates long periods of pain. When conditions are right, society reaches a tipping point, where revolutionary change—change that pessimists, posing as realists, thought could never happen—often takes place overnight. With due apologies to English teachers, who I greatly admire, “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
The Elephant in the Room
Most educators, and many e-learning professionals take a more cautious approach. They don’t acknowledge the elephant in the room. They try to tiptoe around it. So they talk about band-aid approaches. But band-aids, applied to the same old gaping wounds, won’t stop the bleeding. Sometimes, deep wounds require major surgery.
Which begs us to ask this question: doesn’t the fundamental assumption of incremental change fail to capture the central contradiction: that what kids are already doing to help themselves to learn has made boring classrooms obsolete?
Why not offer kids customized opportunities to find what they need? Why base advancement in the educational system on a child’s “date of manufacture,” as Sir Ken Robinson puts it.
Why not turn education into a captivating, challenging, story-like adventure or quest? This is light years away from the dull and unimaginative classroom experiences that we have created.
This subject, of course, raises many questions. Who will be the new authorities? Should kids just play video games instead of studying Shakespeare? How do we distinguish genuine playful learning from addictive games or commercial exploitation of our kids? Who sets the new standards? What will the new curriculum be, and how will it prepare our kids for the future?
Who Are the Real Enemies of Education?
Here is the real question that kids will be asking us, as educators: Are you with us, or against us? Will you try to maintain power, control and authority instead of changing with the times? Will you educators rest on your laurels? Or will you join us, and embrace the future?
The future belongs to those who not only have the the courage to shout, “The emperor has no clothes!” but also the wisdom to channel the forces that actually bring about genuine change. Our Obi-Wan Kenobi will be the visionary who sees the path that lies beyond the confusion of Detroit classrooms with 60 kids. Our Yoda will be the one who clearly articulates the central contradictions of our time. Our Luke Skywalker—our Jedi knight—will be the one who bravely confronts the Dark Side. Like all masters of the Martial Arts, he will channel the energy of opposing forces, and put it to work in the service of good. Our Princess Leia will not tiptoe around the problem. She will have no fear of arousing the Beasts of the Establishment and Status Quo. All of our heroes will remember the force, and use it wisely.
When thinking about how to transform education with the tools of e-learning technology, I have two more words of advice as you embark on our quest:
Gene Levinson is a professional home tutor and cloud-based educational entrepreneur. He has worked as a biology teacher, Director of Communications, Biotechnology Researcher, and Clinical Genetics Lab Founder/Director. As a postdoctoral fellow, he did HIV-related research while tutoring Harvard undergraduates. As a graduate student, he described the mechanisms responsible for the evolution of simple repetitive DNA throughout the biosphere. He is a graduate of U.C. Irvine (PhD) and U.C. Berkeley. Prior to professional tutoring, he obtained formal teacher training at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.Website: www.smartnoter.com