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Thompson: How To Stop Getting in the Way of Learning

CyberEven when I supported Common Core as a step toward improving instruction, critical thinking, and teaching for mastery, I suspected that it was a part of a failure of imagination. 

Forget the idiocy of seeking high-stakes tests to force teachers and students into the 21st century. Given the explosion of knowledge, why worry over a list of the facts and concepts that secondary schools should teach?

Why not help teachers teach with the greatest curriculum on earth – the web sites of PBS, NPR, our incredible newspapers and magazines, and our awesome national museums and parks?

Every Sunday, listening to NPR, I’m reminded of the tragic opportunity costs of the contemporary school reform movement. This week, American Radio Works reported on the great potential of Common Core to counter the drill and kill prompted by testing, as well as the primitive worksheet-driven pedagogy that preceded it. Ironically, the child of a teacher featured in the report complained that the introduction of Common Core into his high-performing school means that packets of worksheets are driving out engaging instruction in his favorite subject, science.

Reformers assume that high-stakes tests are essential to making teachers and students do their jobs, so they downplay the damage done by their test, sort, and punish mentality.

Then, NPR’s TED Talk Radio Hour (rerun) reminded us of what I would think that everyone - even reformers during their childhood - once knew.  Sugata Mitra started the discussion with the reminder that education is not about “making” learning happen, but by “letting learning happen.”

Annie Paul Murphy next explained that learning begins in the womb, and Alison Gopnik explained why adults need to start thinking more like children.

Teacher Rita Pierson explained that learning is about loving relationships. Host Guy Raz agreed, but noted an apparent contradiction between Pearson’s call for schools where adults mentor and care for children, and Mitra’s position that, mostly, adults should get out of the way. This allowed Mitra to pull the show’s themes together.

Today’s assessment system, he explained, is “ridiculous.” Reformers actually are trying to perpetuate a 300-year-old system manned by interchangeable bureaucrats. It made sense in the age of Imperialism where we had to teach children to become adults who could “survive under threats.” But, now the stress and test approach to accountability just undermines learning.

Mitra says that people connecting with people is the key. Adults must do what grandmas have long done, saying “Wow!” and salute the learning of young people. Our goal must be schools where adults and 13-year-olds come together and where we “all drift off into cyberspace together.”-JT(@drjohnthompson) Image via.     



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