I recently glanced online at the course catalogue at the big public school where I used to teach. It brought back many fond memories of classes that I’d taught and students I got to share my days with.
It also served as a powerful reminder of how narrow our imagination is when it comes to course offerings. For example, there are the usual offerings in Language Arts, Social Studies, Mathematics, and the rest, which represent the same subjects that schools have been offering for generations. Not that there’s anything wrong with these subjects. It’s just that the world is changing with such extraordinary speed. There’s so much going on now, it’s impossible for schools to keep up!
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(Case in point: a former student of mine, who was so disenchanted by school that he dropped out, recently unveiled at a TED conference his latest development: an e-book created for Al Gore as a follow up to An Inconvenient Truth. At one point in his talk, he holds an iPad with an image of a wind turbine. From the article in Fast Company magazine: “[He] stopped the show when he gently blew on the tablet’s mic, and on its screen, the blades of a wind turbine turned, with electricity moving to a house and then into a storage battery. Stop blowing, the blades slow down, and the flow of power reverses. This works on the iPhone too.”]
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The world is different, but our schools are the same. We’re proceeding under the delusion that teachers can keep up with the pace of change in society. We’re proceeding under the delusion that kids who are trained to follow directions, to be passive recipients of academic content that’s been divided up into different subjects, are being prepared for the 21st century.
At PSCS, two of my colleagues teach a wildly popular class called “Push Yourself.” The curriculum is simple: set an ambitious goal, share it with the rest of the class, then report back on your progress. Today, one student with the dream of becoming a screen actress achieved her goal of getting a series of headshots taken by a professional photographer. In fact, not only did she get the photographer to come to campus for her, he took the photos for free.
The student will share her story in class next week. For the other students in class, she becomes a role model for taking initiative, achieving something meaningful, and pursuing a personal passion with enthusiasm. If she can do it, so can I!
The truth is, there is no way for teachers to keep up with how fast the world is changing. The best thing we can do for kids is to teach them how to get out from behind that desk and make something happen.
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