I think that one of the most common fears we all face as educators is leaving a student unprepared for success. All of the debate, all of the controversy and also all of the fear of experimenting with education comes down to that one fear. While that fear has a lot of validity it is also what holds us back as educators.
One of the most common responses to instituting a change in schools is often met with the all too common revoke, “well we need to prepare them for college and for the real world.” This revoke is meant to point out that giving students more control of their education or moving away from the lecture/test format would lead students to do poorly in college. Simply preparing students for “what colleges demand” (ie. lecture and test) without thinking about the implications of that statement are quite dangerous. This “preparation” leads to a top down approach where we end up blindly following an unknown authority that we are afraid to stand up to (see Kohn 2013) as well generalizing what it is that colleges are looking for. A recent series of articles points to this exact idea.
In a NY Times article that came out this week titled “Didn’t Ace the SAT? Just Design Microbe Transplant Research,” we see how Bard college is revamping its college admission process to declare ” war on the whole rigmarole of college admissions and the failure to foreground the curriculum and learning.” The move is meant to start a debate about the honesty of college admissions as well as highlight the fact the college admissions has become more marketing than anything else. The article goes on to point out how the National Association for College Admission Counseling has even called on colleges to “consider eliminating the SAT and the ACT from their admissions.” Just in case you were thinking that the SAT/ACT was the great equalizer that made all of that standardized test practice worthwhile, think again.
On top of the NY Times article there were also two recent articles from Harvard titled Educating the Innovators and In AP 50, Students Own Their Education that talked about Dr. Eric Mazur and his approach to education. Dr. Mazur points out that the current information era is unlike any other in its speed and that this transformation “is going to have an absolutely phenomenal impact on education and, more importantly, it’s going to have an impact on the skills that are required.” The biggest flaw in the current educational paradigm according to Mazur is that “students become afraid of making mistakes and losing points.” That fear of failure which is bread into our students through standardized testing, teacher defined rubrics, and other assessment measures become “the silent killer of educational innovation.”
To top it all off, a blog post I read this week titled “How a School That Lets Kids Play All Day Sends 90% of Graduates to College,” goes on to show how the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts sends 90% (yes 90%!) of its students to college despite having no academic requirements, no tests and no curriculum. The school even has (gasp) a democratic voting system where students and teachers have an equal vote (and students outnumber staff 20:1).
Before jumping to conclusions about why students still need to take the SAT’s seriously or why the Sudbury Model simply won’t work, let us step back and think for a moment. Why do we have the SAT? Is it for “leveling the playing field of college admissions?” If that is the case, that is simply not a valid answer considering what we now know about the SAT. When it comes to Sudbury, we might write off Sudbury as some utopian model that simply won’t fit the “rigorous requirements” of our school. Before doing so we might ask when was the last time we gave students an equal vote on ANYTHING that happened at our schools. Maybe the Sudbury Model may be too radical for your current school but student directed learning and a democratic voice for all are two simple steps that every school can make tomorrow.
In closing, I think that we as educators need to do what we ask our students do every day; face our fears.