I am convinced that students are capable of directing their own educational experiences at any age. Educational philosophers like Maria Montessori believed the same, and more and more K-12 teachers are catching on too. How is it that we embrace this at the early stages and then throw it away upon entering kindergarten? We are so accustomed to treating education like a funnel system — students open their brains and “swallow” everything coming out of their teachers’ mouths — that we are missing out on what makes learning worth it.
There is little meaningful interaction with a model of education that requires passivity from students. As I grew in my profession, I developed an interest in identifying methods of student empowerment. Having sat through my share of faculty meetings listening to coworkers’ desperate pleas about the lack of student engagement in their content areas, I asked myself if students weren’t interested because they felt talked at constantly.
I know that I cannot stand being addressed as if I lack the mental fortitude to understand a concept, so it made me sensitive to my instruction with students. Also, I recognized that change theory says there must be buy-in for effects to be consistent and long-term. When I assessed the changes in education, I found that little buy-in was directed at students. In fact, adults believe children should simply do as they’re told because they lack the ability to understand. Herein lies one problem with the current form of education.
If I can be blunt, that line of thinking is one reason why we haven’t seen the growth we projected from these decades of policy changes. I could easily discuss the generational troupes people recite regarding the younger generation, which are ironic because these are generally the same things every generation says about the ones after it. However, I won’t digress here because the important point is recognizing how our society’s views of childhood and children are reflected in the way we restrict them, especially in education.
Student-created curriculum is not new. Montessori schools have been using a form of it for decades. Constructivists have championed the idea of some student control in the learning process for even longer. Yet, the stereotypical classroom has students’ desks in rows with an adult at the board telling them exactly what to write down and what to think. That is not education anymore. It should not be education in the 21st century.
Education today should be problem-based. It should be student-driven. It should be real-world applicable. It should have choice. It should be messy. That’s right. Learning should be messy because it is messy. Students and teachers should not be afraid of “I don’t know.” We should not be afraid of wrong answers. We should not be afraid of failure. It is in all three of those that we truly learn:
- How to determine where we went wrong.
- How to correct our mistakes.
- How to communicate what we found.
- How to solve for the unknowns.
These skills are not specific to math or science or English or history. They are life lessons that never disappear. Can they all be assessed through multiple-choice questions? In part, sure. But, we do not teach for exams. We teach for life. We have lost our way by trying to focus on one aspect of education, and we have allowed the others to falter. We can recover though. We have an untapped resource waiting to be empowered. We have the answer to increasing student achievement. We have the means to generate interest and commitment to the learning environment.
The resource, the answer, and the means are also known as our students. It begins and ends with them. Value them fully, and join this revolution.