“Change or Die”

This New Yorker cartoon puts it plainly: change, or be left behind; change, or become irrelevant!  In the world of education, more than ever, many parents, politicians and educators need to “wake up” to the changes that are essential for our children to learn in today’s world.

It is well-known that educational institutions are among the hardest to change – and it isn’t because of the bricks and mortar. It is because districts and governments are notoriously slow to change, and it is also because a school’s “customers” are its parents – and parents are always emotional about their children. In theory, people may like the idea of change, until it has to be embraced. Then fear of the unknown surfaces, causing feelings of stress and uncertainty, and even a lack of trust.

Imagine, however, a world where concerns and fears prevented the leap of faith or the risk that was necessary to improve, create or advance humanity. Would we still be riding around in carriages? Or driving a 1955 Dodge? Or using candles instead of electricity?

I graduated high school in 1977. By 1987 the world was different; even more so in 1997. By 2007, the world had changed exponentially. Yet, in 2017, most schools still look and behave like the school I attended in 1977. Schools haven’t changed, and yet, the world is completely different!  There has been more change in the past forty years than in much of the 20th century – and that seemed like a century of great change. Many predict that the speed of change will continue into the next decades.

Among the improvements in the 21st century is a greater understanding among neuroscientists of how the brain works – and learns. This understanding should be informing how schools set the conditions for deep learning.  Learning is a complex process not well suited for cookie-cutter environments. We know the toll that too much pressure on meaningless tasks has on our children.  In a connected world, our children are aware of the time wasted in schools memorizing information, and handling tasks in a standardized fashion. More students are turned off to school than ever before, and more suffer from emotional illness, such as depression and anxiety.

I understand that school worked for many of us. We survived the standardized tests, the multiple choice tests, the excessive homework assignments, and worksheets. We endured the passive learning, the one-fits-all instruction, and the busy work. It was good enough in a world that was standardized, and more predictable. That world no longer exists. Horses got us to where we were going, candles lit homes, ether put us to sleep for surgery – and none of that is good enough today.

And yet, this logic is applied to schools. Policy makers, and too many parents, find comfort in the familiar – standardized testing for rankings and achievement, copious amounts of homework as the measure of hard work and learning, memorization of facts and information neatly regurgitated in tests or one-size fits all projects and papers. When our children have homework, textbooks, tests, and worksheets – there is comfort in the familiar.

Schools in America are not adapting at the rate they must for our children to be ready for the world they will inherit. Other countries are making meaningful changes, and the impact is significant. Finland is most often cited, but Singapore is right there, too. Japan has been making the changes needed for today’s students, as are other countries in Europe. America is moving painfully slow, and still, too often, down the wrong path.

The research and data are readily available – we know how kids learn today better than ever before. We know the environments and conditions that are conducive to deeper, authentic and lasting learning. We know what our kids lack today because we hear it almost every day from universities and CEOs.

There is a lot that needs to happen, and it begins with embracing real, systemic change in our educational system.  Similarly, parents and policy makers must adopt a growth mindset when it comes to our schools, and learning, the same growth mindset we teach our students at Hillel. We are on the change journey. Proudly, we have made great strides — and we have a distance to go.

Ready to get started? Watch this TEDx talk by Will Richardson, from Modern Learners; it’s a great overview concerning why schools must change.



One Response to “Change or Die”

  1. Dawn Straith says:

    That was a superior Tedx talk! Well worth the time. I am so proud to be part of a team of educators dedicated to teaching children about what is relevant to their world. I am proud to be part of the “change” and to show others how education can be amazingly engaging, in an inspiring space, with inspirational teachers/leaders/mentors/role models. I am proud to be a Hillel educator!

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