Nov 142011

I love the fact that we are moving toward a different model of teaching and learning because to be quite honest, I am not really a big fan of the old one. I didn’t really like the traditional model when I was a kid and I am not a big fan of it now as a teacher either. This is not to say the traditional model doesn’t work. Generations of people have been taught this way and accomplished great things as a result but these are different times and so things must change.

There is one thing that is troubling me however. As we move toward a more personalized “twenty-first century learner” (TFCL) model, there seems to be little if any discussion about the students part in the social contract we call an education system. Sure we talk about how we want the kids to be engaged and excited about learning but it is always in the context of what the school system is doing to create a new “love of learning”. It would seem to me that, the student need only take on the roll of grateful recipient in this new and improved, hand crafted education system.

I started to think about this the other day, as I was sitting down doing my homework at one end of the dining room table, while my daughter sat doing hers at the other. Up until now she has been one of these kids who is very bright, usually enjoys school and cruises through without too much effort. This year however, she has had to knuckle down a fair bit because her grade 7 teacher is old school and PILES on the homework. So far she has fared pretty well and has managed the workload with relative ease. What I am most pleased about this year, is her willingness (without too much prodding) to get the work done. In my mind she is demonstrating that she is willing to work her backside off and invest in her education.

During our little father daughter homework session, I began to think about our current education system and my children’s place in it and asked myself the following.

  • Why is there a movement under foot to change the system?
  • Is it really so bad?
  • Is the system failing kids or could it be that the kids failing the system?

My daughter is bright but is not a genius and she seems to be excelling in this archaic, factory system we call education.

  • If she can manage to plod along why can’t others?

My daughter is literate, creative, works well with others, has a keen interest in science and is a successful little athlete.

  • Where is the failure of the system here?

Then my wife came up the stairs and hovered over my daughter’s shoulder, inspecting every last pencil mark on the page and I thought to myself, School gives my daughter the opportunity to learn but her degree of success is more about what is going on outside the classroom. Sure a good education system is important and always will be but how well she does (thus far) has less to do with the school system and more to do with the effort my daughter puts in and a hovering task master of a mother.

So here is the issue I am having with the personalized TFCL model. We all know that there is no substitute for hard work and dedication to one’s education. We can see examples of this everywhere and teachers see it every day. The kids who excel make an extra effort, those who don’t are usually on the other end of the spectrum. My concern is that we are billing TFCL as a no fail, perfect fit system which guarantees unconditional success to all who enter. The social contract between student and school in the old system, which was based on hard work and effort between all stakeholders, is being replaced with a simple promissory note that guarantees a perfect and effortless education for students from K to 12.

As a teacher I can see the point of trying to create an education system that makes learning better because it is perfectly suited to each learner but as a parent, I don’t want easy for my kids. I want them to have to muscle through classes they don’t like. I think the effort it takes to choke down a class you despise holds as much value as the enlightenment you may gain from a class you love. Sure I want my kids to follow their dreams and have the opportunity to learn new, exciting and interesting things but I also want them to fail and then succeed. I want them to face frustration and overcome and perhaps even experience crushing disappointment and live to tell about it.

Life is not about perfect or easy and school should reflect that. We need to teach kids that life is more about taking pride in your efforts, whatever the result, not just doing what comes easy or is interesting. Unfortunately, I am not sure the TFCL model can accomplish this.

I am all for changing our current education system to meet the needs of Twenty First Century Learners but let make sure that the social contract between student and school, places as much value in good old-fashioned effort as it does the joy of effortless learning.