Thursday, April 11, 2013

Educating Thinkers

Last week Thomas Friedman wrote an article in the New York Times entitled "Need A Job? Invent It." and as I was reading through it I was struck by the idea that homeschoolers will be in a unique position to benefit from a rapidly changing job climate. 

Let me explain. In the article Friedman makes the observation that schools are doing a poor job preparing their students for success in the job market (as well as college performance as discussed in this previous entry). This is born out by high unemployment among youth and recent college graduates (upwards of 24%). The article goes on to cite Tony Wagner, a Harvard education specialist as he talks about students who are unable to assimilate information, think creatively, and innovate. As Wagner states “because knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’ ”

We've talked a lot about the industrial model of education that has taken over our schools, the goal being to prepare graduates to be cogs in an industrial machine geared toward consumption (if you missed this check out this entry, and this entry). That is one of many reasons so many parents are now choosing to homeschool. The industrial model is one built upon assumptions that are outdated, fails to recognize the creative potential in every person, and in the end is dehumanizing. It has also been blamed for the spike in diagnosis of ADD and ADHD among children. And now the experts are recognizing that it fails to accomplish its very simple goal of creating a prepared workforce. By stifling creativity in order to preserve classroom order, by teaching for a test, by evaluating knowledge based on one "right" answer, the innate ability of children to think outside the box is slowly stifled until that spark is extinguished. And that's fine if you're wanting to create a citizenry of workers who sit on assembly lines or are working within an industrial model where innovation is relegated to the "creative types." As Wagner states this educational model encourages children to check out when it comes to school citing a recent Gallup survey showing student engagement going from 80 percent in fifth grade to 40 percent in high school.

Interestingly, the reforms proposed by Wagner and Friedman involve less teaching of facts and more teaching of critical thinking and innovation. But as Oliver O'Donovan states "No one who has not learned to be traditional can dare to innovate." And this strikes at the very heart of our educational system. In the pursuit of innovation and creative thinking, the past is left behind, ridiculed and neglected as simple "facts" to be memorized for a test and forgotten.

Yet, without a historical perspective there is no true innovation. And there is no true critical thinking without an understanding of one's place in the past. Scoffing at history as irrelevant shows a certain hubris. In our age of technological innovation I often wonder if future generations will look back on us with pity. As we chase the next new thing, the faster bandwidth, the newest electronic gadget, are we actually living in a new dark ages? A dark ages marked by social disconnection and loss of community? In rejecting history we become slaves to the present trend, whatever that may be. I've been reading a lot of Aristotle lately for grad school and I am continually amazed at how relevant it is to life today. I've also been reading quite a bit of medieval literature over the past couple of years and it speaks to so many aspects of our modern culture. These classic works shine a light on our present foolishness by showing us a different way to live, a way to take the wisdom of the past and apply it to today's problems.

And so, this brings me back to my original point. Homeschoolers have a unique position to benefit from a job market that requires creative thinking. As free-thinkers who opted out of the mainstream, they are prepared to take a different approach. Their education generally reflects a respect for the past. Homeschoolers, in my experience, love to read and they discuss the great ideas and first things. And they are encouraged to develop a lifelong love of learning. And they know what eludes so many educational experts: in order to see things in new ways, in order to develop creativity and innovation, the best approach is to go back to the past, to learn the fundamentals.


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1 comment:

  1. Wonderful food for thought, and great inspiration for the spring doldrums that tend to come as school year fatigue sets in! Let's all purpose to finish strong, remembering what is so clearly articulated above!