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Milennials aren’t harder to teach. We just don’t try hard enough

Submitted by on Monday, 8 March 2010 No Comment

It was, admittedly, a new take on the old “these kids and their short attention spans and self-absorbed natures are ruining the world” spiel.

Instead, a British education union leader blamed a culture of “instant gratification,” fed by reality shows and celebrity news, for making today’s children harder to teach. “Against this background, the job of the teacher is immensely harder than it was even 10 years ago,” he said.

That’s the right conclusion, but he took the wrong path in getting there. Instead of blaming reality shows, Association of Schools and College Leaders head John Dunford needs to look at schools themselves, which haven’t changed much – at least, not for the better – in several decades. And let’s be honest: Was memorizing a dry text ever that exciting? Today’s students know there are other ways. My generation didn’t  have similar options.

Yet, we keep doing the same thing.

Oh, sure, there’s the reliance on the almighty bubble test that passes for reform – that appears to be as much of an issue in England as it is here. Rather than reforming schools, though, the feedback fanaticism has merely created tremendous growth in the testing  industry. It’s created $6 billion boondoggles in the name of using a “scientific approach” to education. And now it’s leading to mass firings because those lazy teachers and their slacker students just aren’t getting the message that we’re serious.

Is any of that really working for us? If not, how about trying something different? Instead of dismissing kids as scatter-brained and intellectually lazy, why not meet them where they live?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan took steps toward there – hint: the address begins with “www” – in announcing a $500 million initiative that officials will create free and open course software that publishers can build on.

“We can draw on these trends of mobility, digital content, and online social networks to create more effective learning experiences, more customized curricula, more powerful assessments and more interactive, connected communities of teachers,” he said.

Ignoring his stubborn insistence on bigger and better testing, those are laudable goals. But why wait for an expensive initiative when we could do it today?

There’s no reason that teachers can’t begin building their own social networks around their curricula. There’s no reason Google Earth can’t replace old-fashioned map plotting. And there’s no reason for teachers to be blocked from using YouTube and its wealth of historic content.

Make that, there’s no good reason. There are plenty of bad ones, though.

Yes, we have the tools today but we’re wasting resources by walling them off and time by focusing on drill and kill at the expense of compelling content. Most kids know that. Many teachers do as well.

Yet we continue to curse the darkness rather than turn on the light. And then we wonder why teaching is harder than it was 10 years ago.

Copyright 2010 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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