Cut the red wire…but first

 “Cut the red wire…. But first…”  …

For those off who might have missed it or have memories as faulty as mine, this quote comes a MASH episode in which BJ and Hawkeye are trying to defuse a bomb.  Hawkeyes is following the directions that BJ is reading to him from a manual.  Just as he , following BJ’s instructions, cuts the red wire, BJ calmly mentions… “but first…”  The evolution of the piece that follows reminded me of that exchange… it represents a “but first”.

This started as the second of a three part series exploring the three types of learning that Clark Aldrich describes in his book, Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways To Unlearn What We Know About Schools And Rediscover Education.

In the first post, I explored what Aldrich refers to as the need for us to focus on helping kids “learn how to be”. In this piece I wanted to explore his concept of learning how to learn.

But as I was outlining my thoughts, I realized that I was focusing more on some pre-questions that I had to explore before my mind would let me get to Aldrich’s thinking on the topic. More specifically, I kept getting interrupted by questions that moved beyond Aldrich, or maybe they actually come before Aldrich. The questions that wouldn’t stop pestering me and that I want explore here are: “Where are we right now? How the hell did we get here and, most importantly, what is keeping us here?”

So… now it’s going to be two  3-part series. This first series  will deal with the three questions… one at a time and then I’ll be returning to Aldrich to explore the learn how to learn and learn how to do learning types.

So, first of all, where is “here” … 

“Here” is just about where these   guys wanted us to be.

Committee of Ten.png

Committee of Ten,  courtesy Sudbury School

In 1892 they were asked to develop a model for what content should be taught and how both the content and the school day should be organized. Only problem is that it didn’t change after two world wars, after the Great Depression, after several recessions, after the industrial revolution, after the invention of the automobile, the computer, the internet, the cell phone, etc., etc., etc.

If you were designing what and the way kids should learn in 2016, would you ask these guys? Well, we sorta did! And here is where we are.

In many ways, for kids and teachers it’s surprisingly like the turn of the century… the 20th Century! So for me it’s kind of safe to say that…

  • “Here” is trying to do the wrong thing better – i.e., schooling designed by 10 guys in 1892.

While there is a growing sense that we can do schooling better if we can combine the 1892 curriculum with a reframed focus of soft skills and dispositions, in my mind this is still trying to do the wrong thing ‘righter’. Why? Because for right now “here” in far too many instances is a continuing focus on loading up the school day with the content knowledge that has been defined by business folks and politicians and that can be measured most easily and efficiently – i.e., large scale state assessments.

In a recent post Will  Richardson Richardson shared a quote from Russel Ackoff…

“There is no longer the slightest justification for introducing children to the idea that human thought is a collection of fragmented “disciplines” and making that idea the center-pin of the educational experience for students in their schools. As a historical curio, this idea might make for an amusing aside in a general discussion of the evolution of human thought, but as a notion that is productive and useful for developing minds it is, at the very least, counterproductive. Children grow up seeing the world as a whole. Their greatest challengeone that continues to be the central task of every person throughout lifeis to form a worldview that makes sense out of the multitude of their experiences. Indeed, human sanity depends on the integrated nature of a person’s worldview; fragmented psyches are generally considered ill-adapted to the needs of adult survival” (Kindle 950).

  • “Here” is continuing to ignore Ackoff’s observation and ignoring the wealth of materials available at our finger tips to help us design and provide engaging learning experiences and continuing to limit the location of learning by content domains, time and geography.

As Will Richardson shares in another recent post

(Is it beginning to look like maybe I should just suggest everyone read Will Richardson and stop writing myself?)

It’s not hard to see that our focus in schools isn’t on learning as much as it’s on making sure kids become learned about the “best-guess” curriculum we put in front of them. Similarly, it’s hard to argue that that approach is getting them ready for the 90%-10% world of self-determined learning that we all know they’re going to live in.

 Here’s truth: We now have access to more uniquely relevant and interesting resources for any given child to learn from and with than any organizationally selected curriculum could possibly offer.

Which is why the school curriculum should now be an act of creation instead of a highly scripted package of content for completion.

  • “Here” is maintaining the organization of content, school day structure, and time to the model recommended by the Committee of Ten over 100 years ago.
  • “Here” is a place where collaboration is revered as an idea and less frequently practiced. Want to check it out… as several teachers to explain the grading system used by the teachers whose rooms are located on either side of theirs or ask your own kids how many different grading systems they have each year. Too frequently, our school cultures foster and reinforce an “independent contractor” mentality.
  • “Here” is also a place where the expectations for teachers and kids…all kids… have changed dramatically.
  • Here is a time when too many students leave school unprepared to define, direct, and successfully meet their own learning needs; when too many students lack experience in collaborating with others from communities beyond their own to meet common goals; and, when too many students lack the confidence to know that they can be their own learning agent… able to plan their learning, organize resources and set learning targets.

Want to add a few more “here” statement?

Conclusion…Our system is not giving students what they need to function in the world they are experiencing and our schools and classrooms are too frequently organized to get exactly the results they are getting.

To me, this begs a few big questions…

  1.  What do we/should we mean by education?
  2. What do we want our kids to know, be able to do and be like when they leave school?
  3.  How have you answered these questions in your school?
  4. Would you share some of your answers with us?

One thought on “Cut the red wire…but first

  1. Pingback: We Can’t Continue to More of the Same | Rethinking Learning...

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