UNthinking the Future of Education

I have a confession to make. I am CONCERNED for our children.

It’s not because of the many ugly, dangerous things we see on the news or hear about on the radio. It’s because of what I am watching happen right here, right now – at the schools we send our children to every single day.

We should all be concerned. Those of us who have spent time in the education field know what I’m talking about. In the name of “academic excellence,” we are fighting the wrong battles and losing the war for their future. We’re setting them up to fail, because we have failed to adapt.

UNthinking the Future of Education
I’m a parent. I speak about this issue with passion because I love my children. I want them to succeed and grow into the best possible version of themselves that they can become. But “the real world” has already changed – and the sand is very quickly slipping away from us. Kids are memorizing vocabulary words and math formulas in a world where memorization is no longer relevant. We’re forcing our own children into obsolescence.

The rate of change in the tech world is accelerating at an exponential rate. And we think we’re keeping up with it. We do. We think that buying new iPads … committing to STEM programs … Pay for Performance, No Child Left Behind, and standardized testing will push them to be the best they can be. And yet – it does not matter how operationally efficient you are if you execute the wrong strategy.
Academic excellence: what does that even mean any more? High test scores? Average test scores? Mediocre test scores? Barely finishing high school? Finishing college with a mound of old world data and suffocating debt and a degree that is already obsolete? Really, in a world that has changed, what does it mean?

The raw speed of change has accelerated. As our academic rigor increases, its real world relevancy decreases. Pure and simple. We’ve created an industrial factory education system that has built brain robots, not individual problem solving thinkers. We’re pushing our children through with little forethought about the end game. What happens when they reach the other side of this production line?

The word education comes from the latin root ‘educere’ – to mold or to draw out – to sculpt and grow the individual into the best possible version of themselves. Yet ironically, right now, we are merely boxing our children in. We are standardizing – regulating – ruining. We are systematically squelched the best, most creative and compelling parts of who they were meant to be. We think we are helping them, we do. We hold fundraisers to build new computer labs, and iPads and overpriced textbooks, all the while knowing they will be outdated before our check is even cashed. We pat ourselves on the back because we’ve given our kids the best track spikes to run. And yet – the game has changed. Their spikes are tearing up the court.
In fact as teachers teach for the test, and students study formulaic cirruculem – we have systematically decreased our kids natural ability to navigate ambiguity or master complexity.

We need to find ways to not just educate our kids, but to ignite their passion for lifelong learning. We need to teach children how to adapt, how to be pro-active and how to fill them with a quest to be constantly curious and to challenge the status quo.

We have no way to predict the future. The only thing we can do – should do – is equip our kids with skills to adapt to the uncertainty of this changing world. We need to help them become comfortable with being uncomfortable. We need to teach them to be curious about the world. And even more importantly, we have to teach them in such an inspired way that Xbox, Snapchat and reality TV are not even on their radar. We need to invite them to challenge us – and themselves. To invent. To improve. To inspire.

THIS is the test worth taking. THIS is the test we cannot afford to fail.