Learning Revolution

I promise that my blog will not be just a stream of videos, but I’ve been stumbling across some very interesting talks and presentations that I feel I had to share.

For me, school was dreadful. It’s not that I was a bad student, misbehaved, or anything of the sort. But I felt I was constantly put down, bored, and very rarely allowed to move at a pace that I felt comfortable. No, I didn’t want to go slower. I wanted to move faster. Much faster. Instead, most teachers just gave me more work. I guess that’s what it means to be “gifted”, you need more work.

One teacher really broke that mold for me, and I really can’t thank him enough. I was in high school in Northern Maine. I had a whopping 36 people in my senior class, and only 4 people in my Calculus class. One day, probably a month or so into the class, I was feeling as I usually do: bored. So, I asked my Calculus teacher, Mr. Hudson, if I could move ahead. Surprisingly, he said “yes!” He gave me the homework assignments for the rest of the year, and asked me to tell him when I reached certain points, and he’d administer the tests. I finished the entire year’s worth of work before the end of December. Simply put: it was the best educational experience I’ve ever had. The sad part is that it occurred in my Senior year of high school, and should have occurred much, much earlier.

I don’t tell you this to inflate my ego. But I can’t help but to look back at that and wonder, what would have happened had I’d been given that opportunity much earlier in my life? And now that I have kids, I’m concerned about the opportunities they have as well. I also look at all the kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD and I can’t help but to think that we’re doing them an injustice. Don’t get me wrong, I believe such a thing exists, but I think it’s over-diagnosed. We expect to have a class full of extremely well-behaved students who are learning at maximum capacity, and when any one of them disrupts the class, it feels like they end up with the ADHD label. I don’t have a lot of evidence, it’s just the way it feels. It hits home with me because I was bored in school, and on more than one occasion, wanted to lash out in class but never did. If I had done so in today’s environment, would I be labeled with ADHD? You never know for certain, but I think the answer is probably “yes” and that bothers me.

I’ve felt like there’s just something wrong in the way we teach children for a long time. I always thought the point of school (up until you get to college) was to prepare you for real life. Yet, most kids walk out of school and don’t know how to balance a checkbook, or manage their time. We don’t give kids many opportunities to discover their talents outside of academics, or we put down kids who happen to be good at music, art, wood working, etc. But more than anything else, I don’t feel like school encourages real thinking. It seems more like rote memorization, and solving problems in an academic sense.

I keep coming back to something Walter Isaacson said in an interview with NPR on Einstein and his creativity:

I mean, first of all, his scientific theories were great leaps of the imagination. They weren’t things where you just kind of improve slightly on Newton’s theory of gravity, for example, is when you say no, Newton’s theory of gravity has it all wrong. Gravity is actually the curving of space and time, a whole new way of looking at the universe.

Isaacson proposes that Einstein’s greatest gift was his creativity. I think he’s right. Recently, I came across a video that captured this idea more concretely. I ran across this animated presentation called Changing Educational Paradigms. In it, Sir Ken Robinson nails it on the head: divergent thinking. And it’s the kind of thinking we need to promote in school.

I’m not going to do the presentation justice, so here it is:

There is also a similarly themed TED talk that Sir Ken Robinson gave:

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Sir Ken Robinson outlines in the many ways he believes education is flawed, and is probably the most clearly articulated rationale I’ve seen. Take some time, watch the presentation and his talk. It’s definitely worth the time, if for no other reason, than to get you thinking about ways in which we can improve education for children.