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What is education really about? Test scores and letter grades? Sometimes it certainly seems that way. But looking forward, there are a lot of positive changes being being made -- or talked about. Sometimes talk of education reform may get away from what's actually important: the students. Kids will rely on the education they receive in school to fuel their future. So education, real learning, is important. What do students actually need? What inspires learning? And more importantly, how can students be engaged in their learning and use it to succeed in their futures?
Let's take a little educational advice from Bill Watterson's Calvin and Hobbes.
Most of us, who spent our formative years in the public school system, can sympathize with Calvin’s frustration. I can remember sitting in the classroom going ‘Sure, I’ll memorize this so I can pass the test and get good grades… but seriously how is this information going to help me in life?’ And I certainly wasn’t the only one. Some classes, some lessons plans and methods of teaching were very frustrating as a middle and high school student. I struggled to see the point, struggled to be interested in quite a few of my classes.
It’s no wonder so many students don’t have much of a drive to learn. If they don’t see the point, or don’t feel excited, why even try? Being a high achiever, or having future educational goals can stir kids to get good grades, but are they really learning? You can pass a class with flying colors, but will the material stick? Will it continue to benefit you after you've left the classroom?
There are a lot of changes currently being made in education, and many of these are being made possible by the use of modern technology, something Calvin didn’t have access to. But the problem presented here isn’t a lack of modern resources, it’s the mode of teaching. Technology could just as easily be used to teach kids to memorize facts as traditional teaching methods. The point? What's really important is content and delivery. How are students being engaged?
I had some wonderful, inspiring teachers in school. They got me to care about what I was learning because they were passionate, and they encouraged me to work hard (and sometimes how to work smart instead of hard) and persist even when I was struggling.
Being able to work and persist through something you don’t like can be good for you. Perseverance and hard work – grit – is an important life skill. But you should still see how what you’re doing connects you to the bigger picture. You can work hard, maybe even at something that doesn’t particularly interest you, and still see that what you’re learning matters. I love this next comic.
That’s the question that so many are asking right now: Are students being taught the skills they need for the 21st Century? What can be done to prepare them? How can they be taught to care? If Calvin wasn't being taught the skills he needed, and didn't see what he was learning fit into the bigger picture, how could he be motivated to work harder?
As we've all heard so often, students are going to be headed into a world with jobs that haven’t even been created yet. How can you possibly prepare students for that? By teaching them the skills they will need. Not necessarily job skills, but life skills. Teaching kids how to be good citizens, how to interact with the physical and digital world, encouraging them to ask deep questions and search for the answers, build their creativity, and find their passion; teaching them not to fear failure, but instead, to learn from it -- that’s what students need.
I can remember Physics class. For the longest time, I didn’t understand it. But I had a passionate teacher who taught in an enthusiastic, albeit a bit confusing, manner. And while many lessons left me a little lost, I really wanted to learn. The concepts presented fascinated me, drew me in. With encouragement from my teacher to press on, and many, many failed tests and quizzes, I began to grasp what I was learning. I learned that my failure was one of the things that motivated me to succeed. And in the end, it spurred me on to spend hours trying to bust problems simply because I really wanted to know the solution.
Now, I don’t remember much from Physics; it’s not what I pursued in life. But I did learn that I could push past my own insecurities; I learned that failure is just part of the path to success, something that encouraged me to turn things around. And those are skills that continue to benefit me.
Twenty years from now, yes, it’s true, today’s students may be in a workforce with jobs that haven’t even been created yet. And in the classroom, not every student is going to love what they're being taught. But if they can see a connection to the bigger picture, they won't give up. If they can be flexible, creative problem-finders who can push through seeming dead ends, who aren’t afraid of failure, they might just have the skills they need.