What Are We Afraid Of?

I started off my morning reading an article about a really cool new school in Coppell, Texas, in the Dallas Morning News. This school calls itself a project-based school. Students are given freedom to explore and create their own learning opportunities. The school is 1:1 and students are free to use portable electronic devices in their learning.

Taught by educators who have been teaching in “traditional” settings for years, these students are guided and their efforts are facilitated, but they are not lectured. Gone are worksheets and “filler” assignments. I read this article and was so happy to hear that a local school district had taken that deep of a plunge and I’m excited to see how things turn out. But then I saw a sentence that really caught my eye:

“Still, some educators are wary of anything trendy and fear giving kids so much freedom to learn on their own. “

I kept reading that sentence and wondering about the word fear. Have we really come to a place where educators have such a need for control that they fear giving students an opportunity to educate themselves? I found it ironic that this article came across my desk this morning because just yesterday I began formulating an idea for a presentation about educational reform and it involved this very thing.

My idea is this – if we make two mind trips – one back in time and one into nature, we will discover the key to the way learning should be.

1. The time mind trip. I’m taking you back to early Greece. Socrates is sitting with his students. What is he doing? Is he lecturing to them? No. He is only asking them questions. He is so firmly set on asking questions, rather than answering them, that it gets almost frustrating to his students. Guiding questions, however, lead some of his students into discoveries that earn themselves their own places in history. Have you ever heard of a guy named Plato?

2. The nature mind trip. I’m seeing a lioness with her cubs. She’s allowing them to follow her on a mildly dangerous hunt. They watch her as she stalks the prey and skillfully attacks. To the side, the cubs mimic this behavior in their own play. Mother hasn’t said a word. Cubs get it.

What does all this mean? I believe in a world where students can learn for themselves. A world where teachers model the behaviors they wish for students to mimic. A world where science teachers put the equipment and the supplies out on the table and watch students create their own experiments to answer questions (yes, I understand the teacher has to monitor this for safety – that’s the real reason the teacher is there). A world where, at the beginning of a grading period, the teacher hands the students a list of the content that needs to be covered and asks “where do YOU want to start” and “how will YOU learn this?”

What are we afraid of?

Students are lacking in one thing as a result of our need to control their learning – critical and analytical thinking skills. That one thing is crippling them and is what has put us in the position we are today in education. Let’s stop holding them hostage and start giving them their minds back.

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