True learners are multidimensional, they are passionately curious about the world around them. The Gateway to 21st Century Skills blog wrote a few posts about Leonardo da Vinci, the quintessential example of a Renaissance Man, that got my wheels turning today. da Vinci was a scientist, inventor, painter, sculptor, architect, cartographer, mathematician, and the list goes on. He had an insatiable curiosity and was deeply creative and innovative. da Vinci is still highly regarded as a brilliant creative genius, his thirst for learning is just as relevant today as it was 500 years ago. Here is my question, is the current education system set up to foster the da Vinci’s of the world?
I think education likes to imagine itself as creating a population of individuals who excel in a range of subject areas. After all, we include a variety of subjects and topics that we push students through so that they can learn a little bit of everything. The problem: our students don’t really excel at any of them because they aren’t given the opportunity to become passionately curious about any of them. The curriculum that we offer students is one dimensional, it’s purpose has become to prepare students for testing. Did you get that? We have created a system that prepares students to take a test. Created by the system. What do the tests tell us? That we have students who can pass tests. Does that sound like educational incest to anyone else?
Let me give you an example from my student teaching experience 9 years ago. When I was an elementary student, I didn’t have to take the state test for Colorado (CSAP) because it hadn’t been invented yet. I took the ITBS test about every 3 years and thought nothing of it. When I started student teaching, I was curious about this state test that I would be preparing students to take (and we were encouraged to teach students how to take it). When we got the practice tests in, I flipped through to see what sort of content the test covered. I wanted to make sure that I had equipped my students with the necessary knowledge so that they wouldn’t have those freeze moments that can throw a students into standardized test tail spin. As I was flipping through the 3rd grade test I read the following question:
If you wanted to learn more about Whales, which letter would you search under in an encyclopedia?
Now, don’t cheat and look below at the answer….you said “W” didn’t you?
That would be wrong.
The choices given to students: B, M, T, or F
The correct answer: M for mammal
The answer my 3rd grade students would guess: B for Beluga Whale
Number one: IF any of my students were searching for whale, you know where they would look first: Google. It wouldn’t occur to most of them to go to the encyclopedia as a first reference.
Number two: If my students were searching for whale in the encyclopedia they would look under the “W” first. You know what? They would find whale. They might eventually also explore mammal under “M” when they looked at the bottom of the article and read “see also mammal”.
Number three: This is the most ridiculous line of questioning that I have seen, what information exactly is that question trying to glean? That my students can think critically to solve a problem without an obvious answer? I would say they did pretty well by choosing “B” for Beluga Whale.
Are we creating a culture that nurtures the da Vinci’s of the world? No, we are creating a culture that has lost all sense of curiosity, passion, and exploration. We create a culture where there is one correct answer, that we will give you, so that you can pass a test.
If the current culture doesn’t foster a da Vinci outlook on the world, what kind of culture could? One where students were allowed to explore passions. One where students were allowed to view learning as life. One where students could see that subjects of learning are not really separate entities, but rather that learning is multidimensional, overlapping, and interwoven. When I look at what da Vinci accomplished, it is apparent to me that this is someone who understood that all learning is life, it is connected. I suspect that da Vinci didn’t set out to be a jack of all trades; I suspect that he set out to learn and as he learned it led to other disciplines, interests, and knowledge. What results: a man who was able to use his unique talents and giftings to change the world.
If we send all students through the exact same subjects, the exact same way, to meet the requirements on the same test, do we have any hope of fostering students who are able to use their unique talents and gifts to change the world? Or, will they graduate from high school with a degree that sends them into the next system where they are now expected to undo all the learning that has made them look the same and decide what makes the unique?
I’m sending out a call to create the da Vinci culture.