Friday, February 3, 2012

Marion Brady on Education Reform

Marion Brady's post on titled Education Reform: An Order-of-Magnitude Improvement is a brilliant read.

He starts off by challenging the conventional wisdom around today's education reforms (what Pasi Sahlberg calls GERM):
Imagine the present corporately promoted education reform effort as a truck, its tires nearly flat from the weight of the many unexamined assumptions it carries. 
On board: An assumption that punishment and rewards effectively motivate; that machines can measure the quality of human thought; that learning is hard, unpleasant work; that what the young need to know is some agreed-upon, standard body of knowledge; that doing more rigorously what we've always done will raise test scores; that teacher talk and textbook text can teach complex ideas; that ... well, you get the idea.
In similar fashion, I wrote a post titled You say you want this, so then why are you doing that? that attempts to myth-bust some of the knee jerk reactions we have towards what a good education looks like.

Brady not only criticizes today's top-down mandated, content-bloated, prefabricated curricula, but he also provides a feel for what real learning looks and feels like:
Our sense-making system - like the concept of gravity before Sir Isaac Newton - is so familiar we don't think of it as a system. And, when it's pointed out, we tend to dismiss it as too simple and obvious to be important, much less the key to educational transformation. But made explicit and put to work, our implicitly known knowledge organizer moves learner performance to levels far beyond the reach of the measurement capabilities of standardized tests, including the ones on which international comparisons are based. 
Skillful use of the system can't be taught in the usual sense of the word - can't, that is, be transferred in useable form from mind to mind by words on a page, images on a screen or lectures from a stage. Learners have to construct understanding for themselves. 
To appreciate the teaching-learning challenge, imagine trying to explain water to a fish. Success requires that the utterly familiar be made "strange enough to see." A five-hour lecture to a fish on the subject of water wouldn't match the memorable experience of being lifted out of the water for a five-second exposure to air. 
Experience is the best teacher, but attention must be paid. Adolescents, encouraged to look long and hard at particular, ordinary experiences - and to think and talk about what they're doing - eventually discover their basic, five-element approach to sense-making. They've lived long enough to have experiences they can analyze, are mature enough to examine those experiences introspectively and haven't yet been programmed by schooling to sort what they know into disconnected boxes with subject-matter labels. 
Reasoning their way to those five distinct kinds of information, they "own" the foundation of their knowledge-categorizing and -manipulating system. No reading from a textbook, no listening to a lecture, no viewing of a video production, will ever match the level of understanding of ideas that emerge from firsthand experience refined by dialogue.

For more on rethinking curriculum and lesson planning, check out this page.

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