Day 17: The Most Challenging Issue in Education Today

I’m convinced this blog challenge was invented by a horde of devious teachers sitting around with their high-end gel pens and assorted post-its. How do I know? Because their questions are just that damn good. They push me to think deeper, and never let me off the hook with an easy retort. Teachers know how to write great questions.

Today’s prompt: What do you think is the MOST challenging issue in education today?

The devious part of this prompt is that absolute modifier–“most.” It demands reflection and a sifting, reevaluation and debate. I’ve been debating with myself for nearly 10 minutes now trying to answer it…now 15.

And here we go. I think the term “education” has somehow become divorced from the the real action of “learning.” Many in our society value “getting an education” without recognizing the inherent messy, and deeply personalized process of learning. We value the paper without the process, and want our education system to operate like Walmart: minimal effort in, big return out, try not to feel guilty about who might be bearing the burden for it.

Many parents do not understand the process of deep learning, and instead focus on pushing their children to churn out As and Bs without truly understanding what those grades represent about an actual learning process. They don’t want to see their kids struggle because somewhere we forgot that learning IS a struggle.

Learning is an iteration of trying and failing, reflecting and risking, working, observing, and persevering.

Most of the people in power want to reduce learning to a multiple choice test and its resulting number. They want to stamp teachers and students with this number, and develop algorithms for their effectiveness and efficiency. A, C, F, 1, 2, 3…and education has become a bunch of numbers. Numbers are rarely the full picture.

Education is a system fraught with problems, burdened by bureaucracy, and beholden to tradition. And learning should never be confused with this. Our society seems to have lost sight of, or perhaps never fully understood, the process of learning. In place of it, we often get the convenience of an education.

There are people who understand that true learning is dynamic, interdisciplinary, and completely engaged with our innate human curiosity. These people are often teachers. Many of them are librarians and scientists. Some of them are video game creators, musicians, artists, and social workers. Some of them are principals.

To solve our most challenging issue in education, I propose we start listening a bit more to those in our society who are experts in learning, and bit less to those who consider themselves experts in education.

I propose we start listening to the teachers and researchers who know what motivates humans to learn and what ideal learning environments look like.

I propose people stop thinking they know all about education simply because they have one.

One final idea. What if we asked the students? We ask them what they are curious about and how they explore that curiosity. We ask them what causes them to feel proud of themselves and what helps them persevere through a struggle. We ask them who has made the biggest impact on their learning and why. We ask them if they think a rank or grade defines them.



And then we listen. We listen, and we learn. Even though that process will take perseverance, and even though it will look different for each student, and even though it will sometimes feel like failure. If we listen to those who know learning best, we might rediscover the true definition of learning and figure out how to reconnect it with this monolithic thing we call education.

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