Common answers were:
- Because you’ll need to know this someday.
- Because you’ll need to know this when you grow up.
- Because it will be on the test.
- Because it will help you become a critical thinker.
As an adult I feel cheated by a school system that took away more than a dozen years of my life that could have been spent doing something more productive or interesting. Instead, with the exception of my typing class, I learned nothing that I needed for when I grew up. When I share this I’m often met with the response, “That’s not true. You just don’t realize what you learned in school that enabled you to accomplish what you have.” To which I respond, “Absolutely not! I became who I am in spite of, not because of school.”
Here’s what I learned in school:
- I learned to dislike subjects that I love in the real world.
- I learned that school was all about doing meaningless work without a real purpose or audience.
- I learned not to question anything or do things my own way.
- I learned that regurgitating what the teacher said, even though I disagreed, would get me good grades.
- I learned to imagine standardized test creators as stuffy old white men and women who only saw things in one boring way with only one possible answer even though my mind could figure out ways that other possibilities could be true.
- I learned that no teacher could explain why I needed to learn Algebra or its application in the real world. It did not help me think critically. In fact I never learned Algebra even though I memorized algorithms long enough to pass a test. No algebra teacher I ever had could explain why I needed to learn that awful stuff. Today I don’t know Algebra. I ask people what they think I’m missing as a result. I never get a good answer beyond it teaches you to think critically, but I can think critically without it.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are schools, teachers, and students in learning environments that not only keep it relevant, but actually keep it real. Schools that keep it real have students who are prepared for life. This, not outdated, one-size-fits-all, irrelevant assessments, is a better measure of school and student success.
Here are examples of innovative schools, educators and what it looks like when we keep it real for students.
Schools that are keeping it real.
iSchool – Read how the iSchool provides the Immunization to an Uninteresting Curriculum and how they Allow Today’s Students To Focus So They Become Tomorrow’s Experts at The iSchool
- Science Leadership Academy – Read how the Science Leadership Academy keeps it real here. Find out how they use Facebook to Strengthen the Student - Teacher Connection.
The Island School – Read how You Can Get a Dalton Education at a NYC Public School at The Island School which is Preparing Students for Success by Helping Them Discover and Develop Their Passions both during and after school.
- Deer Hill School - Watch this video to see this school's approach to student engagement based on the Schoolwide Enrichment model. Each Wednesday afternoon every student can discover and develop their talents. It would be great if this type of learning wasn't only relegated to one afternoon a week.
- Unschooling – Unschooling is a method of learning from life or learning naturally. There are no mandated classes, schedules or tests.
- Learning Innovatively without School
- 20 Characteristics I’ve Discovered about Unschoolers and Why Innovative Educators Should Care.
- I am no longer willing to hurt children - John Taylor Gatto (A compilation)
- Democracy Schools - There is shared decision-making among students and staff on matters concerning living, working, and learning together. Students individually decide what to do with their time, and learn as a by-product of ordinary experience rather than through classes or a standard curriculum.
- Hey Teacher! Leave Us Kids Alone!!!- There’s A School for That!
- See what happens when kids & teachers are empowered to run a school on This American Life
- More Schools That Keep It Real – There are many alternative models of education that keep it real including schools that follow the Schoolwide Enrichment Model, Big Picture learning schools and more. You can read about these models here.
- One Great Way to Differentiate Instruction – See how Deven Black designed a lesson that enabled students to tap into their strengths, interests, and learning styles.
- When students own the learning –See what happened when Keith Ferrell relinquished control and gave students a choice in how they would meet learning goals.
- Real Life Learning - Shelley Wright is a high school educator in Moose Jaw, SK. On her blog she shares, “I love learning more than anything else.” This post features the video of what happens when school becomes real life.
- Skype in the classroom – Educators everywhere are bringing education to life with Skype.
See how Melanie Holtsman is using Skype in the Classroom or take a look at this video to see how Carl Anderson is using Skype to connect with virtual guest speakers.
- Ideas for passion (not just data) driven students
- 21st Century Educators Don’t Say, “Hand It In.” They say, “Publish It!
- When passion drives instruction no child is left behind
- Preparing Students for Success by Helping Them Discover and Develop Their Passions
- Profile of a Passion-Driven Student
- Profiles of Adults Who Were Passion Driven Students - Their Secret? They Didn’t Go To School
- What if kids designed their learning? Here are some resources to get started.
- Differentiating Instruction is NOT Hard if We Tap into Student’s Passions!
- Keeping assessment real
- How will you determine your student’s talents, interests, passions, learning styles, and abilities?
- How will you allow students to own the learning?
- How will you always enable student learning to be real?
- How will you ensure students are doing authentic work for real audiences?
- How will you enable students to follow their passions when demonstrating learning?
- How will you enable students to demonstrate learning using the tools they choose?
- How are you helping to prepare students for their future, not your past?
- How are you supporting students in capturing their work into an authentic online academic and/or career portfolio?
He explains it this way.
It is possible, with some imagination, to make everything we teach real for each of our students. The desire and ability to go beyond ― “I‘m teaching this because it‘s in the curriculum” to ― “Here‘s how this relates to each of your worlds in a real (and not just a theoretical, relevant) way,” is something students highly appreciate and value in their teachers.
The best thing a partnering teacher can do to keep learning real (and not just relevant) is to make everything he or she is teaching come directly from the world of the students—either their world of today or their world of tomorrow. (And, of course, not just the world, but the part of that world they are passionate about.) Going further, the partnering teacher should make learning not just about students‘ world, but about changing and improving their world. Can you think of a better answer to ― “Why should I learn this?” than ― “To make your world a better place?”
Partnering itself is already more real than traditional classroom learning, which is typically removed from the world. In partnering, students use real-world tools to access and analyze publicly available information (as opposed to textbooks created only for school). When students use web sites that are open to anyone, and understand that if they feel there‘s a problem with those sites they can take action by changing wikis or posting messages, that is real. When they post their work for others to see, that is real as well.
We can and should do this with everything.