Learning to Learn as Important as Learning Subjects

One myth that too many in the media and politics have bought into is that schools should be run like businesses. Robinson explains that the standards movement and legislation like No Child Left Behind are an attempt to make schools more efficient and accountable, but they’re trying to apply industrial systems models from the twentieth, nineteenth, even eighteenth centuries. 

Some of the reasons these ideas are doomed to failure is that we don’t educate for the past or present, we have to anticipate what challenges the future will hold and do our best to prepare students for their future. Not only is the population growing rapidly, demographics are changing irreversibly and technology has been advancing exponentially since the end of the last century. 

Another myth that society (often at the hands of politicians and the media), is that public schools are bad, irredeemable, even the whole problem. Robinson makes clear that free public education is an overall good for most members of the population. You might say he’s cautioning us not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” He recognizes that there is more we need to do to help those slipping through the cracks, he just sees the standards movement as making things worse for them, rather than better.

In his speech at Mount Rushmore, President Trump recently lashed out at teachers, “our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.” He’s also tried making re-opening schools this Fall in the midst of a continued surge in Covid 19 cases into a partisan issue, accusing his opponents of wanting to keep schools closed as an effort to prevent his re-election. 

Often state and local politicians blame schools, teachers or teacher associations for poor school testing performance, school attrition rates, and all kind of society’s problems from crime to the economy.

From what else Robinson has written and spoken, I’d venture to guess that a third dangerous myth might just be the fairy tale that “if you work hard in school and get good grades, it’ll be your ticket outta here.” 

I had a professor back in the 1990’s who was a proponent of some of Robinson’s ideas for helping make school relevant and meaningful for students. While models from the industrial age may not address challenges for the future, perhaps having students learn from and work with businesses and community members on problem solving or simulations of social, technological and economic challenges outside of school can be highly stimulating. 

Ultimately learning how to learn and adapt, think critically, problem solve and work collaboratively with others are all just as or more important than learning traditional material about subjects and disciplines.

Our challenge as educators is to not succumb to any of these three myths, but this last one may be the most dangerous. Just because we succeeded in school, enjoyed it or at least enjoyed our subject/discipline/emphasis, that doesn’t mean every student can, let alone will. We have to be humble and creative in seeking ways to reach them.


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