We are being sold a lie in society that school equals learning. Schools and learning are discussed by parents, community members, and government officials as if they are interchangeable. So when the community hears “our schools are failing” what they equate that to is: our kids aren’t learning. What is school? What has it become? For me, school is represented by the image below:
School is curriculum (mandated by the school, district, or state), standards (again dictated by the state or nation), high-stakes testing, and the data that comes as a result. Now, I know that much more happens within schools, but these are what define what a school is today. The problem with this, is that many assume that because the school is defined by this neat and tidy box, that learning is happening as a result. This model of schooling feels efficient because it concludes that we get a known, replicable product at the end. That feels predictable. If we have this sort of structure it is assumed that no matter what goes in, a recognizable product will be the result. Just like a factory. If you are inside the box, you are learning, if you start straying outside the box to further explore, discover, or create, and it doesn’t reflect on a test, you are failing. Unfortunately for this model, the world is no longer safe or predictable. It doesn’t fit in a neat and tidy box. An education that cranks out a service, does it with measurable output, and works to reduce costs is not going to produce results we want to live with. The supposition to this model is that there will be no surprises, students will filter through the system and at the end we will have productive, literate adults who can join the workforce. Unfortunately, life isn’t so neat and tidy. You see, in a factory you are working with similar materials that are used to make identical products. But we aren’t working with similar materials. We are working with unique individuals, we are working with children. Children who have different genetic make-up, backgrounds, home lives, hopes, dreams, gifts, and plans. A school model that is so rigid simply cannot work. Schools will always be failing using this model, because they are trying to fit every single child through the same mold. Sure, you can force them to contort and conform to the mold, but the end product still won’t be the same. It still won’t be neat and tidy.
This is the way I view learning:
This model isn’t so rigid, it offers many paths to learning. No matter which direction(s) a child approaches, learning is the end result. This model offers students flexibility to their learning, it isn’t a “you’re in or you’re out” model. Everyone of us is on our own unique path of learning. Those circles around learning show that even within an approach to learning, children will still travel toward the learning at their own pace as they are developmentally ready. Each unique individual is allowed to approach learning in the ways that make sense to them. I would argue that the rigid school model above does more to hinder learning than to help it. It cuts students off from the learning that could happen and sells the lie that standards and curriculum and tests are all there is to learning.
It is time that we break free of the box. School does not equal learning. Following a curriculum so that you can pass a test is not learning. Let’s build our school model around what learning really looks like. Let’s allow our students the freedom to be the unique individuals they are. Let’s build a school that knows that a test can never be a truly accurate measure of all that a student knows. Let’s help parents, community members, and politicians see why the box is a failing model. We can’t keep waiting around for this change to happen on its own, or for policy makers to come to these conclusions. There is an urgency in education. Children are going through the box school model every day, they don’t have the luxury of time for the adults to get it right. We have to do better and we have to do it now.