Why We Need to Completely Redesign Education and Learning
Have you ever been sitting around or going about your daily routine, and then suddenly a great idea pops into your head? But you think to yourself, who would care, or can I even do anything to bring this idea to the attention of people who can benefit from it?
If you are like me, and your head is filled with a million ideas, and thoughts race through your mind at light speed, morning, noon and night, then you will know exactly what I mean.
You want to shape, mold, and build that idea into something spectacular. You want to scope it out, develop a plan, build a storyboard, chart a course. You want to research and test over and over again, so that you can make it perfect! But at the same time, you feel shunted and limited because of the usual red tape of societal boundaries and constraints.
Sometimes, you wish you can spend time in a lab or learning environment so that you can get updated on all the current knowledge and technology related to your academic pursuit, but you don’t have the time or money because you have to be employed in order to eat, pay bills, and have some decent quality of life.
Like most of us, you’ve had to endure a lifetime of schooling from about age 5 to adulthood, and chances are good that you have secured some kind of degree or diploma from an institution of higher learning, and possibly an advanced graduate degree. All in the pursuit of what? A JOB!
What did it take to get there? How many hours upon hours of work did you have to go through to arrive at some kind of educational standard set by different groups of governing bodies with different sets of rules? If you have ever felt frustrated, even outraged with the current state of standardized education for roughly the past 100 years, and how the traditional institutional learning process currently works in our culture, you are not alone!
History of Traditional Education
What do you think about when you hear “traditional education”? Do you conjure up images in your brain of classrooms, uncomfortable desks, pencils, text books, and teachers lecturing on boring subjects?
Well, education goes much farther back, when you consider ancient Egypt, China, Greece, and Rome. Although, the concept of school and education can be traced back to many different sources, these civilizations paved the way for several innovations that we see today. Their methods differed greatly at times, and they were not without problems, but a few concepts stick out to me as brilliant for their time.
The value of education to the ancient Greeks and Romans throughout history was evident. There were two forms of education in ancient Greece: formal and informal. Formal education was attained through attendance to a public school or was provided by a hired tutor. Informal education was provided by an unpaid teacher, and occurred in a non-public setting. Education was considered an essential component of a person’s well-being.
Education in ancient Rome derived from an informal familial system to a tuition-based system during the late Republic and the Empire. The Roman education system was based on the Greek system, and many private tutors were Greek slaves or freed men. Due to the extent of Rome’s power, the methodology and curriculum used in Rome was copied in its provinces, and thereby proved the basis for education systems throughout later Western civilization.
As for the ancient Chinese, education was a rare thing and children were generally not sent to schools. Parents preferred that their children work in fields, growing rice, millets, and vegetables, taking care of the cattle, and attending to their siblings.
This was much more about survival, farming, family care, and learning methods of production for the nuclear and extended family, rather than academic pursuits. Even though book learning was not the main focus, and it must have been difficult at times, what I like about this way of life is that kids got to spend time with their families learning ways to take care of themselves and their own. These people learned how to be incredibly resourceful. There must have been a special closeness, and feeling of kinship, community involvement, and responsibility.
One thing about Chinese culture though, that presented a problem was gender inequality. Boys were sometimes allowed to attend schools, but girls were not. And whether a boy was allowed to go to school or not depended totally on his father’s decision. If the father thought that he could be spared from field work, then the boy could attend school.
Children going through school in Ancient Egypt would learn a series of symbols called Hieroglyphs, which were created about 5000 years ago, and they continued to use them for another 3500 years. They used these symbols to read and write, just like we use our English alphabet. Documentation of their cultural history was very important to them.
Most children who attended school became scribes. They went to school so that someday they could enter into the royal service, or maybe even one day become a famous Pharaoh or wealthy scribe. If they did not attend formal school, they could become an apprentice and learn a job through training. For example, if you wanted to become a banker, you would follow a banker around to see what a banker does.
The upbringing of boys was left largely in the hands of their father. Daughters were taught by mothers in the home to assume mostly domestic duties. Parents familiarized their children with outlook on life, religion, ethnic principles, folk rituals, correct behavior toward others, and the supernatural beings in which everyone believed.
In order to get a proper perspective on this in terms of American culture, let’s take a brief look at:
- Where we came from.
- What the current state is.
- Where we are going.
Where We Came From
The systematic learning techniques taught to most children in the U.S., such as reading and writing language has been a developmental process of the last 150 to 200 years or so, or at least the last 50 years in other countries. This is what we know as standardized education. More on that later.
Schools for the young have historically been supplemented with advanced training for religious order (priests and nuns), bureaucrats, and specialists in certain trades. At one time, people thought of careers as “vocations.”
What is a vocation? You don’t really hear that term anymore, do you? It means “A strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation. A person’s employment or main occupation being regarded as particularly worthy and requiring great dedication.”
While there were many hard labor jobs over the centuries, it was generally because you were trying to farm or provide food in order to survive and give advantages to your family. This was no exception even as the 19th century approached, and education evolved in response to changing technology and ultimately in the employment of people in factories and industrial production.
For those who wanted a more professional path and had the economic means to do so, it was considered important to have a calling in life, not just doing a “job” or performing work for labor. These were city officials, politicians, teachers, ministers, business owners, lawyers, and medical professionals, and they required advanced education for credibility.
People were usually groomed or trained for a trade or family business, or a specific line of business that kept you in a particular socio-economic status. Need some new horse shoes for your stallion? Well then look no further. Frank the Blacksmith is right down the street! He can help you out. And chances are, he learned the trade from his dad, and his dad learned from his dad, and so on. Don’t step in any horse poop along the way!
The concept of education as a process of obtaining a career has obviously evolved over time to include a massive number of paths these days.
What the Current State Is
Fast forward to today’s bristling pace of society where everything is moving towards digital information and people are consuming academic content — and everything else — at an incredible rate.
Now we can learn things we only dreamed about 20 years ago. And a lot of the information that was once taught in school text books has been challenged and proven to be inaccurate, exaggerated, misleading, or flat out WRONG! In fact, old text books from even as recent as 20 years ago are filled with bias, omission, grossly inaccurate stereotypes, and propaganda.
Not only can we learn facts faster, thanks to the advent of Internet, we also have access to tons and tons of information on consumer products and services, including references and reviews, so that we can make smart informed consumer choices better than we ever could before. Remember any times when your parents or grandparents got ripped off by an auto mechanic or kitchen appliance guy?
The chances of that happening today is much MUCH less!
The most amazing part about today is that if you choose to pursue an advanced degree, you don’t necessarily have to go through traditional methods of education at a college or university. You can be self taught and then take exams to obtain credentials (certification and licenses) when you are ready, or you can attend an accredited online school or university. The point is, your life does not need to revolve around school or work; it can be both if your school and/or your workplace are virtual!
Great examples of virtual schools and virtual learning environments include:
- Penn State World Campus
- University of Florida Distance Learning
- UMass Online
- Boston University
- Northeastern University
- and many others. Check out a list here.
If you can juggle class time and studying with work and events in your personal life, you don’t have to put your life completely on hold to get a decent quality education. It is easier to achieve than ever before, but with a certain caveat…COST!
Want to know the real reason why college costs are so damn high? These articles HERE and HERE go into some detail. I will give you a hint… it has something to do with the baby boomer population and the skyrocketing increase in college and university administrative positions!
That’s right folks. People who work at colleges have increased in numbers AND they want better pay and benefits. They want their piece of the pie, at your expense, hoping you will land a decent paying job after you graduate and spend the next 20 years paying off a government loan to the tune of $36,000-$100,000 or more, if you are lucky! THIS IS BULLSHIT!
What is Standardized Education?
If you are familiar with the American school system, then you are familiar with the concept of standardized education. Do you remember when you were in school, and you had to take those stupid trick multiple choice tests, hoping you would pass? And do you remember having extremely intense test anxiety not knowing whether your teacher even taught you the required material that was supposed to be on the test?
Here are 3 great articles I found that really nail it. Standardized education sucks, and here is why!
When you were in school, did you like being treated like every other kid in school and have to meet some standard level of education according to what some governing body told you? I sure as hell didn’t! Would you have liked to skip classes and information that were completely irrelevant to your personal and developmental growth, and focus on subjects that you truly cared about and excelled in? I sure as hell would!
The ACT, SAT, GRE, IQ, Wechsler, Peabody, any aptitude, assessment, or achievement exam… they suck because they do not measure the true academic ability of anyone. What they do measure, however, is your ability to take exams under pressure. And if you do not do well on exams under pressure, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, you’re screwed! Does that sound fair? Hell no!
Where We Are Going
The culture of education needs to change. What can we do to change it? And I don’t mean a little change, I mean a complete overhaul! What are some ideas we could build and expand upon, and then implement? I decided to focus on a few truly innovative ideas out there right now.
Case Study: My Review of Khan Academy
Sal Khan is an American educator, entrepreneur, and a former hedge fund analyst. He is the founder of the Khan Academy, which is a free online education platform. According to his website description, it states: “Learn for free about math, art, computer programming, economics, physics, chemistry, biology, medicine, finance, history, and more.”
I first learned about Khan Academy last year in October 2015 through a co-worker, so I decided to try it out for myself. It is absolutely amazing! I only say this because I actually used it…several times, and for several different subjects. I am not affiliated with Khan Academy in any way, nor do I receive any commission or profit from this review. Because it is a non-profit organization, it costs you nothing. But the benefits are incredible. I think it’s awesome. Period.
If you get a chance, listen to Sal describe how he got started with the idea when he was tutoring his teenage cousins on math, and then realized what kind of potential this idea had on the world.
Google for Education
Google understands the importance of education, not only as a means of educating young people, but they also understand the value of lifelong learning with their higher education program. They offer innovative tools to enable new ways of learning, with free unlimited storage, seamless collaboration, world class security, and solid sustainable infrastructure. Schools have already jumped on the bandwagon and incorporated Chrome laptops with Google apps as standard equipment.
They also have Google Classroom, which is a blended learning platform for schools that aim to simplify creating, distributing and grading assignments in a paperless way. Here is a whole boatload of cool stuff you can do with Google Classroom.
Another great resource is Treehouse, a learning platform that offers unique online teaching style to make learning easy for everyone. Whether you are trying to land a new job, brush up on your skills, or learn how to build your ideas, it is a pretty cool resource to use.
And finally, I want to mention an amazing series on youtube called Crash Course (579 videos and counting!). This is the brain child of brothers John Green and Hank Green. John is an accomplished author (“The Fault in Our Stars”, “Paper Towns”, and “Looking for Alaska”). It started out with them blogging and then vlogging online, and they built a huge following of fans.
Crash Course is just about everything you can think of that a school kid (or adult) would ever want to learn, but may have missed in school. They present academic material in bite-sized 15 minute segments, so it is easy to digest and absorb. And they use humor and good speaking style to make it fun! You probably missed all this cool info in school because it was so damn boring, or presented by someone who just didn’t give a crap!
There are dozens of youtube learning channels that do a lot of the same things, but Crash Course struck me as particularly well produced and presented. They have a bunch of guest hosts in addition to John and Hank, and they seem to genuinely care about teaching the correct information with fairness and impartiality. In essence, they encourage you to use critical thinking, which is something we should use all the time!
Other youtube video learning channels I like include: Vsauce, Smarter Every Day, SciShow, Bill Nye, and Bad Astronomy (Phil Plait).
The Most Important Lesson of All
Jazz up your learning environment! Not all learning happens in the classroom. Workplaces are already allowing workers to log in remotely from home and do their work when they are most productive, whatever time of the day that is.
With the advancement in computer technology, why are we still making classrooms the primary learning environment? No wonder kids are bored out of their minds! Field trips are all well and fine, but they are not enough. We need to design learning environments with the student in mind and how they learn best!
Corporations are installing gyms, clinics, nap rooms, cafe’s, food courts, and really cool conference rooms. Why are classrooms still stuck in the dark ages with a few frills here and there? Get with it! Get the kids outside on nice days. Build facilities that foster real life experiences and hands-on learning. You have access to wifi devices that have a very broad range of internet access. Use this technology to give them every advantage. Have a class in the grass, at a park, at a farm, or in a meadow!
Kids want to be excited about learning. So give them rich powerful experiences and a reason to be excited! That is what they will remember when they get older. Why would you not want to give them the most treasured learning experiences of their life while they are young? It sets the stage for a love of learning throughout their entire life. Isn’t that the whole point? Learning should be fun. Show a kid that there are no boundaries and limits to how creative they can be, and you will see one happy kid!
And while we are at it, let’s stop making school a prerequisite to getting a job or a career that makes money, so you can conform to commerce-based society, pay bills, and someday “retire”. Retirement is a made up concept by the commerce, employment, and finance world! Let’s start focusing on careers of life where everyone is collaborating together on projects that restore the beauty and simplicity of taking care of each other and the planet! Learning is a lifelong pursuit and should not be retired.
Letter grades are fabricated by the school system, so they can rank you according to how many scholarships you can get for college, and how much money you can get at a job for life after school. Letter grades are also used as measurement of a person’s prestige, which is completely wrong. It encourages competition and arrogance, and has no place in giving people true integrity and sustainability.
Money is and always has been false security, and many people are finally figuring this out. Real security comes from knowing that all of your hard work and great ideas are being used to make life better for everyone. If you want to measure true intelligence, here is a clue — it has to do with taking existing knowledge and applying it to your current situation to create something useful or make something better, or to solve a problem.
Knowledge builds. No one is an island. We all need each other’s ideas to create new innovative ideas. Creative ideas are not unique. They are all based on something that we have seen or heard before. The greatest inventions, ideas, and innovations are products of constant refinement and testing over and over again with the scientific method. Ask any scientist how important the scientific method is in getting great ideas to work.
Social, political, and monetary barriers do nothing but get in the way of true progress!
It may seem like I get a little pissed when writing all this content, but I want to be very clear that I want good things to happen. Sometimes people need a wake up call, and it can be bit harsh at times. But there is nothing wrong with a bit of tough love, if it’s done with good intentions. So…
A message to teachers and education professionals…
We don’t need a system that lumps students together because of proximity. We don’t need teachers who are unable or unwilling to teach correctly. If you don’t know how to teach children, or you are unwilling to teach content in different way to meet the needs of your students, then do us all a favor and get out of the teaching profession! You’re fucking it up for kids who really want to learn!
We also don’t need ego. A bad attitude or know-it-all personality is not doing you or your students any favors! Teachers, if you think you know it all, you’re wrong, and you will appear as an asshole to your students. Get rid of your pompous arrogant ways, and if you don’t know something, admit it and tell your students something productive that they can use, such as “I don’t know right now, but I will find the answer for you, or find someone who knows the answer.”
If you are in the teaching profession just because it is a “projected growing employment opportunity” or a “job that you can make a decent living at”, I have news for you…you’re in it for the wrong reasons! Students depends on you to guide them well beyond book learning and theory. They need a mentor who is passionate and loves to teach, no matter what the subject! If you suck at teaching, your students will know it real quick. Either listen to your students and get better at teaching, or choose another line of work that is more suitable for you.
We don’t need teachers who are “tough” just because “you need to learn how to deal with tough people, so I am getting you used to it now”. That is a very stupid and ignorant way of looking at things, and serves absolutely no constructive purpose. All that does is cause resentment for the student against the teacher and prepares them for nothing good.
Hey, crazy English teacher lady! Nobody cares about you trying to be the teacher that everyone loves to hate. Any “preparation” you think you are giving them for “the real world” by being an asshole is only in your own head. They will encounter other jerks in other schools and in the workplace as well. Guess what, those people are resented as well. And people in the workplace get fired if they act like an asshole long enough. Grow up and teach your students the material in a fun and interesting way and leave the drama to Hollywood.
The sooner teachers figure out that all students have specific and unique learning styles that may or may not conform with traditional or standardized methods, the better off everyone will be!
If you have a personal story about your education experience in elementary, secondary, undergraduate, or graduate school, please share in the comments section and let us know how you feel about standardized education.
Or if you have any positive or negative experience with learning in general, please share it. We’d love to hear from you!
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Originally published at leapfroggingsuccess.com on June 25, 2016.