Monday, May 27, 2013

America is Obsessed with Content

America is Obsessed with Content

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.
                                                                                - William Butler Yeats

I am failing to understand our nation's obsession with content, content, content.  There continues to be a large number of classrooms in which students "sit and get" information upon information about topics such as the Kreb's Cycle, mitochondria, mitosis, binary fission, the Calvin Cycle, etc...  The list goes on, and on, and on (my apologies for making that a science list, but that is the world I see it in).  The list of information that must be "told" to our young students is so large, that most teachers complain that they will not be able to fit everything into the school year.  YUCK!!!  No wonder so many students walk around their school saying they hate science.  It isn't science they hate, it is the memorization of process after process and cycle after cycle that have absolutely no relevance or tie to their own lives.  I conducted a study a couple of years ago by asking 20 non-science teachers what mitochondria were and what mitosis was.  ZERO for TWENTY got it correct, but they are all professionals and very good at what they teach.

Am I saying that I believe content and facts are useless?  Absolutely not!  In fact I think that they are very important.  We need to continue to discover new data and facts and compile them.  I do not believe, however, that we should not be jamming these facts down the throats of students.  They do not like it.  They do not understand it.  They will not remember it.  I have been giving biology and physical science tests & quizzes to juniors, seniors, and adults over the past couple of years, and the results have been disgusting.  The overall average is around 40%, slightly over the 25% random chance of guessing the answer.  Also, most of these students and adults were ones that were good at playing the "game of school".

Why would they need to know these facts?  I do not believe they do.  With regards to content, I believe that students need the following:

1.  Understand concepts - you should understand concepts such as the differences between different types of animals, what plants need to live and thrive, how to keep your body healthy including what many organs do, etc....

2.  Learn Life Skills Content - learn how to care for a pet.  Learn how to plant a garden.  Learn how to take care of your body.  Learn how to, etc......  Not at the microscopic, in depth level, but at the concept level.

3.  LEARN HOW TO LEARN - learn how to acquire new information and facts and combine them to understand new concepts.

4.  Learn how to FIND information aka: research - The internet has changed the game of education and knowledge like no other invention.  There is not a need to know every fact about everything.  If you can Google information and find it quickly, you will be fine.  With this said, most students are NOT good at finding information on the internet, but we do not seem to be teaching them how.....we seem to be asking them to memorize the information.  Can they use a computer on the test?  Can they collaborate on the test?  Can they use resources on the test?  No......apparently that is cheating in the game of school......but nowhere else in the world.

This year I have been in a unique situation in which I was able to listen to a large number of experts come into our program and talk to our students.  I heard experts in many fields from real estate, politics, law, geology, alternative energy, nutrition, health care, military, sustainability, etc..... and the message was always the same:

"WE CAN TEACH YOU EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE JOB ONCE YOU GET THE JOB........but we need you to be able to collaborate, do research, communicate, etc...."


When are we going to start listening to this, instead of playing the largest and most expensive game of Trivial Pursuit that has ever been played?

I am not completely knocking content.  There is a place for it.  When someone becomes passionate or involved with a particular topic, it is time to start learning more about this topic......but 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 year old kids are not ready for this.

WE KEEP BLAMING THESE KIDS, but they are the same ones that cannot vote, drive (if under 16), smoke, drink, etc.... because their brains are not developed enough yet to make rational decisions.  Give them a break.  They are listening to us and we are guiding them haphazardly.  I believe that we need to focus on getting them excited and "lighting their fire" of passion towards topics instead of "filling the vessels" with pointless and soon to be forgotten information.

For those who want content and exposure to new topics and to continue the quest to learn how to learn, I have just the solution.  This is something I want to blog about in future posts. 

For now, think about it:  Why are we so obsessed with content?  Why do we consider the volume of content that we force feed students to be our definition of rigor?


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