For the Sake of the Future

First in a series on education.
It’s been a long time since I was in school, but recent encounters started me thinking about those days again. A few weeks ago I spent an afternoon with a homeschooling cooperative, and last week I joined KI EcoCenter’s discussion on urban education. Both groups inspire me by demonstrating alternative ways of educating youth. I plan to devote an upcoming blog post to each.

Though I know many fine teachers, it does seem to me that something is fundamentally broken in the traditional school model.

By Aburk018 at en.wikibooks [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

By Aburk018 at en.wikibooks [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Back in the day, I was a mess socially, but quite good at getting the grade. I clearly remember telling my church youth leader at the glib age of 17, “I usually just study for the test and then forget everything right away. It’s easy to get an A.”

His face turned mournful, and he said, “So the system’s got you beat.”

I zoned out on whatever he said next. I was excelling in school, easily maintaining my position at the top of my class—ever since I figured out that daydreaming was best done outside the classroom. No one had ever criticized my methods before.

Straight A’s aside, I didn’t integrate much of what I learned, despite some stellar teachers. School was about checking boxes. Only in an occasional literature class would I feel truly engaged and energized. Most of the time (so it seems now) I was half asleep.

Recently I read a man quoted as saying that school taught him to work very hard at things that don’t matter. He said it was great preparation for life in the workforce—but not really for life.

This was my path: doing what the adults said, getting things done on time, but rarely connecting to the material in any real way.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

And I had years of box-checking ahead of me—because much of my working life turned out to be School 2.0. I was free in my off hours to pursue my dreams, but my workaday world belonged to someone else.

I’ve been done with that world for years now, ever since health issues mercifully sidelined me from my corporate job. (Incidentally: doing much better these days.)

I gave away so much of myself in those decades I spent plodding through life in service of someone else’s objectives. Now I look at corporations from the outside and grieve the creative energy locked up in their gears. I look at the classrooms of today, so focused on test scores, and mourn each lost spark.

How much creative thinking is crushed under the boot of the educational system? How much innovation is chewed up in corporations?

Nowadays we need the brilliance of every single mind we’ve got. What’s facing us is nothing less than global collapse. We can’t afford to have anyone zone out.

So why can’t we do this differently? Could we give our youth real-world problems to address, and expect them to show us their best work, not for a test score, but for the sake of our shared future?

The times demand it.

Next: KI EcoCenter, developing tools for the new paradigm.

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