Having children causes one to (re)think seriously about education and the role of school. Education obviously is the most powerful thing in the world. And yet the old Mark Twain chestnut — "I never let school get in the way of my education" — speaks to the core of my own thinking regarding education. I am not an expert in education by any means, but like almost everyone, I have strong ideas based on my personal experiences going through formal, mass schooling. Personally, the best years where I learned the most and was inspired to study and learn on my own were surely the six years of elementary school, and then university and graduate school. One thing I am sure of is that while listening carefully to teachers (and to the masters, etc.) is important, the real learning requires lots and lots of doing, not just listening. One does not learn to play the music — or math or science for that matter — only by sitting in a chair and listening. One learns by doing and figuring things out. I do not provide any answers or insights here, but I wanted to point you to several presentations and interviews below concerning education and schooling that I have found particularly relevant and stimulating. I think they are all worth watching. I hope you'll find something worth while in these presentations that you'd like to share with others and keep the discussion concerning education and schooling going.
Seth Godin on Education
In this short interview, Seth Godin sums up the essence of the problem.
Seth Godin on how schools teach kids to aim low
In this short clip Seth Godin says something concerning the "lizard brain" and our fear of taking risks that reminded me of the world of live stand-up presentations in work or academia. Seth said:
"There are some people, if you give them a mile, they're going to take an inch." — Seth Godin
This gets at part of the problem: a boss or a teacher or a conference organizer will ask you to make a presentation, and while doing something different and creative - and effective - should be welcomed by all, we retreat to doing only what is expected (less downside that way) rather than doing something creative, different, and engaging. After all, doing what is expected is pretty easy, but surpassing expectations and doing something remarkable with impact is both harder (usually) and comes with an increased risk of failure. Even when we give people a mile and encourage creativity and nonconformity, it still seems like too many play it safe and take only an inch. I can't help but think that the habits learned in formal schools across the world at least in part contribute to this cautious approach to doing things differently.
RSA Animate - Changing Education Paradigms
This is an RSA animation of Sir Ken Robinson's second talk at TED. This echoes my sentiments exactly. You can see the live version of this TED talk here.
Born to learn
I love the simple animation and flow to this presentation on learning. We are indeed "born to learn" and we are naturally curious creatures. But does your school stimulate that curiosity and light the sparks in students. My favorite teachers did when I was a kid. Although my secondary school experience was a bit of a blurry bore, I remember the good teachers I had who helped me and inspired me in spite of the imprefect system.
Dr. Tae — Building A New Culture Of Teaching And Learning (or "why school sucks")
I love this presention by American physicist Dr. Tae. In the presentation Dr. Tae touches on the depersonalized nature of the large lecture hall with the "tiny professor somewhere down there" in front going through the material but without engagement or connection with the students. If one of the goals of education is to "have a lively exchange of ideas," the depersonalized one-way lecture seems to be an outdated method for stimulating this exchange.
Shawn Cornally — The Future of Education Without Coercion
Shawn Cornally is a young, passionate teacher who shares his perspective and experiences in this TEDx talk.
Finland's education success
Here's a short clip from the BBC reporting on Finland's success with schools. They enjoy great success, but do not have a test-driven environment. While no place is perfect, we could learn a lot by examining what Finland is doing in their schools.
Japanese documentary: Children Full of Life (part 1/5)
I like a lot of what I see in elementary schools in Japan (although I am much less excited about public junior and senior high schools). Here is part one of five from a wonderful documentary which gives you an evocative look inside one 4th-grade class. You can't helped but be moved. You can see all the clips in this post from last year.
A word from my favorite astrophysicist: Neil deGrasse Tyson
Here's a fantastic audio interview on science literacy with one of my modern day heros, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Not just for science teachers, however. This is interesting stuff for all reasonable humans. I agree with Dr. Tyson. Inspiring stuff. Listen to the whole thing here. Here's a slide featuring a quote from his interview:
"The flaw in the educational system, as far as I see it, is that you live your life – the teacher and student – in quest of A’s. Yet later in life, the A is irrelevant. So then what is the point of the school system? It’s missing something. It is not identifying the people who actually succeed in life, because they’re not showing up as the straight A’s. So somewhere in there, the educational system needs to reflect on what it takes to succeed in life, and get some of that back into the classroom." — Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson
If you are not familiar with John Taylor Gatto's books (wiki), this short video interview with the veteran teacher and author will be of interest to anyone, whether you agree with him or not.