You’re Teaching Your Students the Wrong Things

Are we teaching the wrong content? With the new demands of our modern day times, our schools frequently try to keep up by implementing “advanced” courses. Many of the fundamental concepts are abandoned in favor of learning what is believed to be necessary for the twenty-first century. However, despite the fact that, in the last 100 years, we have made some of the most progressive advancements in the history of mankind, we fail to acknowledge what truly leads to individual successes. There are underlying tendencies that can be found when we observe some of the most accomplished people of our time. There have been countless greats that were able to change the world, yet were high school or even middle school, dropouts. John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Richard Branson, some of the most influential, powerful people in history and yet they did not obtain what is considered a “good” education. Likewise, there are a countless number of people who have taken the path of education and have obtained many high-level degrees, but have achieved so little. How can this be and is education really as valuable as we are lead to believe?

Henry Ford

Although it is imperative that the content we teach is both current and applicable, it is possible that the replacement content being taught is actually detrimental to student learning and could very well be preventing students from becoming life-long learners. The issue at hand is that students are currently taught too little about too many things or too much about the wrong thing. Outside a students’ basic foundation of learning, it does not make sense to teach a little about a lot. This is “Jeopardy Teaching,” or teaching students so that they can have a career as a contestant on Jeopardy. It also does not make sense to go into great detail about a topic that is of no interest to a student or that a student will not use in their future. When we force feed content to students, we are only strengthening their beliefs that they do not like the topic. By allowing students to naturally find topics of interest on their own, or by guiding them when the time is right, students will have more interest in what is being taught and will give greater care to their learning.

The majority of 21st Century-based programs are often created out of fear. Government funded programs and school officials fear that, in the future, our country will fall behind in certain areas if those areas are not being taught in our schools. We look to Russia or China and think that they have stronger math and science programs, which will lead to the future demise of the United States. The offered solution is the implementation of courses that require all students to participate. The hope is that a small percentage of them will enjoy the content and seek careers related to the topics that will contribute to the growth of the country. This method is inefficient and a waste of time, energy, and resources. If you were hunting deer, you would not go into the woods with a machine gun and start shooting until you hit something. You would, however, recognize that this is a waste of ammunition and causes unnecessary destruction. As a result, you would utilize your resources and create a plan to ensure that you get what you truly want in a manner that is as efficient as possible. This holds true in education as well. Students need to be given the tools to come up with their own plans of action in order to follow meaningful paths that they create themselves instead of aimlessly wandering around trying to find what their calling in life is.

So how do we give students the tools necessary to find their passion? It starts with a shift in focus from teaching a lot about one topic, or even a little about many topics, to teaching students how to acquire whatever it is they need. In speaking about education in his book Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill states,

“An educated person is not necessarily one who has an abundance of general or specialized knowledge. Educated people have developed the faculties of their minds so that they may acquire anything they want, or its equivalent, without violating the rights of others.”[1]

Educators should be teaching students how to get what they want instead of trying to tell them what they want. This could not hold more truth in today’s times when any piece of information is available to us with a simple Google search. Why force an uninterested student to learn about coding when he/she would rather learn about the human body and pursue a career in health care? If we help students look within and allow them to find what interests them, then we can properly use modern day technology to our advantage and help push highly motivated students to pursue what they love. There are very few things that sing music to a teacher’s ear more so than a student that is interested in the topic being covered. Developing each students self will lead to more students that feel just this way.

The solution, although general and not yet fully developed, is two-pronged. First, give students a strong foundation with which to build upon. This includes basic concepts, skills, and even general knowledge that are required to become a functional citizen in society. The second prong is teaching students the skills to grow, change, and succeed no matter what their strengths or weaknesses are, what their financial situation is, or what their home life is like. Both student foundation and student growth should be taught from day one of school and should be taught, evaluated, and reinforced throughout students’ entire schooling career. It is this combination that will lead to a more fulfilled and content adult that will have a great impact on society.

[1] Hill, Napoleon. “5: Specialized Knowledge.” Think and Grow Rich. Strawberry Hills, NSW: ReadHowYouWant, 2017. 80. Print.