Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Putting The Cart Before the Horse: Why School Reform Is A Waste

Having the opportunity to meet fantastically brilliant, hardworking and caring educators has to be one of the best reasons to use Twitter. About a month ago, I met Aaron Eyler, and it is my absolute pleasure to have Aaron, a New Jersey high school history teacher, guest blog here today. I have thoroughly enjoyed his tweets and blogposts on a daily basis, and I would be remiss if I didn't link you to his posts on rethinking assignment structure, differentiation and curriculum. In fact, you will find a common thread among Aaron's writing - he challenges us to rethink a lot of things; and true to his reputation, he challenges you today to rethink school reform.

That's enough of me... here's Aaron:

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In his new book Drive, Daniel Pink discusses his theory of the evolution of human motivation starting from 1.0 and proceeding through to 3.0.

Motivation 1.0: presumed the humans were biological creatures struggling for survival.
Motivation 2.0: presumed that humans also responded to rewards and punishments in the environment.
Motivation 3.0: presumed that humans also have a third drive- to learn, to create, and to better the world.

I love the way Pink gets me to think, but I really struggle with believing that our society has adopted a Motivation 3.0 mentality as he describes it. Before we all go running around proclaiming that Pink’s framework is going to liberate education and kids’ minds I think we need to consider a couple of points.

Why have we moved on to Motivation 3.0? In Pink’s other work A Whole New Mind, he spends a chapter discussing three important concepts: abundance, Asia, and automation. The one that should concern us the most is “abundance”. In my mind, the reason that we have entered Motivation 3.0 (which I don’t know if we have) is because we have lived through the “Age of Abundance”. We lived through a period where people valued materialistic goods and, guess what, people still do. People still dream of owning a home, a new car, new this, and new that. It’s the very basis of capitalism.

The problem here is simple: if you haven’t lived through a period of obtaining more goods than are necessary, how can one see the value of bettering the world by learning and creating without an immediate return of investment? It doesn’t matter if you engage in Motivation 2.0 or not. I think you have to live with it to realize that all of those materialistic goods you strive for never make your life any better and normally leave you with a big, gaping hole that simply craves more “stuff”. I really struggle to acknowledge that anyone can skip Motivation 2.0 when we live in a world that is comprised of “haves” and “have-nots”.

But wait! No one would ever turn away an item that is next to free, right? And what is rapidly becoming the cheapest, yet most valuable, commodity in the world? Knowledge. The ability to learn and to develop mastery and autonomy is being revolutionized by technological innovation and ever-expanding connectivity. People now have all of the world’s knowledge at their fingertips for next to nothing.

Unfortunately, this may even be part of a growing problem. The cost of knowledge is becoming so depreciated through technology (despite its high value), which may, or may not, be turning kids off to school completely and making them realize a bonafide fact: they really may not need school anymore. If you don’t need school anymore or don’t see the value, then where is the motivation to go and be actively engaged?

Here is my point: we need to reform education in such a way that students realize the value of knowledge and learning; not of school. Does it really matter if students go to school or not so long as they are gaining an education and developing an appreciation for knowledge and learning? I don’t think so. What matters is that kids are learning and realizing that education is important to their future and success of their livelihood.

More often than not, we spend a ridiculous amount of time discussing how to reform schools when we should really be focusing on reforming learning. This means a conscious effort on everyone (teachers, parents, administrators, businessmen, etc.) to provide students with concrete evidence and proof that learning will take them to wherever they want to go. Who cares about the length of the school day or the curriculum for a class if kids can’t find any relevance in learning the information? Forget reforming schools. Let’s work on reforming learning and making sure that every kid understands the value of it.

THAT’S what will motivate them to learn and be active in their education and in school.

Aaron Eyler (@aaron_eyler) is the writer of the blog Synthesizing Education and can be reached via e-mail at Eyler.aaron@gmail.com.

6 comments:

  1. Why do those three stages remind me of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs? Somewhere along the line we moved away from his ideas or incorporated them into our own. Perhaps the concept of stages was discarded in favour of some more holistic or balanced model of motivation. Webs of interdependence are more popular than pyramids I suppose.

    Schools are where we traditionally get knowledge and learning. There were always libraries and a world of people to learn from. People came to schools because they were places people congregated with a common purpose. They are communities of purpose where learning came more easily. I don't think that is any less true today. Schools and the teachers who inhabit them, inviting learners in, will always need to adapt to the new circumstance. I don't think they will fade away.

    As for motivations, I think we need to be more conscious of what Maslow taught us. Some needs need to be met both in and out of school before learners can self-actualize. Rewards and punishment in school essentially address our need to belong and feel good about ourselves. We manipulate this need for compliance. The manipulation is wrong, but our consciousness of the powerful influence of those needs is not. The first two motives must be addressed before the third is attainable.

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  2. (Here is my point: we need to reform education in such a way that students realize the value of knowledge and learning; not of school.)

    Aaron, I have to challenge your point. One of the glaring disconnects in education today is the context with which we "value" knowledge, and how poorly that correlates to learning. We are cramming kids full of facts and figures with little foundational support underneath it. We're not teaching kids how to think, we're teaching them how to 'know'.

    I believe a culture of learning is a culture of inquiry; one that supports discovery and values creativity. I need to create this culture in my classroom, and I think, as simple as it sounds, Bloom's Taxonomy is the place to start if I want to combat the fear my students feel toward getting stuff wrong; the fear of not 'knowing'. To promote discovery and creativity I need to teach them how to advance their thinking so learning (intelligence) becomes a process for them; not a means to an end (the end being knowledge.)

    Schools are the ideal place to nurture this paradigm shift.If how we think of school contextually could become synonymous with this new paradigm- problem solved. (More from me at http://tinyurl.com/yl6hhov... thinking is the key to knowledge)

    By the way, I also believe mastery is a myth.

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  3. Are you really implying that only rich people can be selfless? That sounds more than a bit condescending to the billions of people in the world who live on less than a dollar a day and who, according to you, can be motivated only by material gain. Maslow had a point, of course, but one need not be a glutton to have one's needs met and thus be able to be motivated by things other the bare necessities. Furthermore, when have you seen surplus wealth generate anything other than increased desire for surplus wealth? Case in point: bling.

    It amazes me how many self-proclaimed educational theorists seem to forget the neediest students in their overwrought metaphors. It is of absolutely NO benefit to carp about the lack of motivation and to call plaintively into the night air for increased participation from teachers, parents, students, and businessmen when we've got kids coming into school after surviving a ten-second gang fight and then having to defend themselves from violence in the hallways and bathrooms. They're shell-shocked, way below grade level, oppressed, defensive, and largely devoid of hope and your best idea is that we "reform education in such a way that students realize the value of knowledge and learning; not of school." That's a great vision, but it's largely useless without something concrete to support it.

    You want to change something? That's great. How ya gonna do it? Words are cheap and the Internet has made them free, but action still costs.

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  5. (Aaron Fowles- They're shell-shocked, way below grade level, oppressed, defensive, and largely devoid of hope and your best idea is that we "reform education in such a way that students realize the value of knowledge and learning; not of school." That's a great vision, but it's largely useless without something concrete to support it.)

    You're right on the mark... I spent 15 years working with the kids you refer to, and I'm wondering what your answer is to the question "how ya gonna do it?"

    In my experience, no matter what the horrible background, (gangs, all forms of abuse, neglect, drugs, poverty...) a hope perspective can be nurtured in any child. Granted, many students have "bigger fish to fry" at any given time in their lives than anything related to school, but simply recognizing this isn't doing anybody any good either. Forget about Maslow and all this edu-babble about needs... you make a point that kids are at-risk in society, and may even be at-risk in school. Reforming the ed. system must begin with the acknowlegement of this fact, and you're right; something needs to be done to mitigate it- otherwise it is truly putting the cart before the horse.

    In my experience I have initiated action by learning as much as I possibly could about students; their families, their friends, social environments, interests, fears etc. This is their story and I need to know it if I'm going to be able to help them in the present. In my experience, even the most hardened and detached kids can be reached if they know at least one person took the time to learn their story.

    Resiliency research has proven repeatedly that at least one significant adult role-model in the most troubled child's life can be enough of a positive influence to support success for at-risk kids in life and school.

    To assert that the only function of schools is for kids to "gain knowledge" is rather naive. Are schools not one of the most natural environments for positive adult-child relationships to develop? The visceral and authentic human to human relatioships that evolve in schools (for some kids, school is the only place this happens) can't be replaced by any form of technology, free or not.

    I'll say it again... I believe a culture of learning is a culture of inquiry; one that supports discovery and values creativity... Experiencing this culture is the right of every student. At-risk kids deserve this environment as much as any kids, and quite possibly need it even more as a matter of survival. They need to know how to question, learn and create more than most. They need to question to gain clarity about their lot in life; they need to learn how to break the chain of risk by being exposed to alternative paths and they need to learn how to create their preferred future.

    These kids need the best of the best teachers to help them do this. How could it happen without authentic care from enlightened teachers in schools?

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  6. "More often than not, we spend a ridiculous amount of time discussing how to reform schools when we should really be focusing on reforming learning."

    I love this idea! So good paradigm shift. Thank you for shaking the meaningless myths... Lucky kids who have you as their teacher.

    Kersti
    From Estonia

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