Sunday, April 17, 2005

Each One Teach One

There is another fine post just up at Common Sense regarding the state of education in America.


If you teach a child to throw rocks at windows, you can’t very well be angry with him when you come home and all of your windows are broken out. He is just using the knowledge he learned in the way he was taught. In the same vein, if we allow our children to sit in front of a television or video game for hours at a time, if we allow them to ignore their teachers or disrespect us as parents, if we give them everything they ask for and expect nothing in return, we can’t blame them for becoming uneducated, disrespectful, anti-social adults.

End Slice:

Whether you want to be or not, you are an educator. This puts a different light on statements from professional athletes indicating their lack of desire to become roll models. The shift for society needs to go from independence and the boot strap model for success toward a system of values that encourages each individual to become expert in some arena and value that expertise to the degree that we feel comfortable having that person teach our children that skill.

I have often said, and been chastised for it, that what we need, instead of a draft for the military or something like Americorps (which in and of itself is a fine program), to make it mandatory for all individuals (for two years at any point in their lifetime) to teach in a local school system. That is, when they feel that they are expert enough in some area, they would then be trained to deliver that expertise to some students in their local area. Wouldn't it be great for students to learn scuba and marine science from a professional in that field? What about learning knitting from the local expert in that subject.

This idea requires, of course, not the trashing of the school system as we know it, but an expansion of our definition of what is good teaching, and what comprises a high quality curriculum. We most certainly would still need a professional corps of highly trained and professionally educated teachers that instill the basics - reading, writing, mathematics, problem solving, and how to learn on your own, etc... This same corps of professional teachers could continue the basic "college bound" curricula. The professional corps of teachers would also have the responsibility of teaching these citizen teachers how to convey their knowledge to students. Because the number of citizen teachers would vary every two or so years, the curricular choices for students would change continuously and no doubt, students would find something to wet their appetites and move toward a more expeditionary mode of learning.

One year, students could take business practices and ethics from a local company CEO. The next, they could take ichthyology from the curator of the local science museum. Moreover, students would be encouraged to follow their own curiosity. While they could be guided down the path to fulfilling college entrance requirements, not all students would be pushed into that kind of restrictive curriculum. Not all students want or need to go to college either. Graduation requirements would have to flex as well, but I am certain, that once students are exposed to the citizen experts, they will find something or some area of interest that lights their fire and gets them productively involved in contributing to our society in a positive way.

Now this idea is very raw and pretty much a radical shift from what we are doing in schools today, but in this day and age, where information is available at the click of a button, educators ought be in the business of igniting the expeditionary spirit among students and then getting out of their way, and providing the proper resources and support to help them get to where they want to go.

Remember as kids, when you accidentally dropped a magnet in the sand box and found it covered with iron fillings? I spent days dragging all my magnets though the sand to collect as much as I could. I was fascinated by the project, which led me to many questions about what was happening. I am sure I was learning about physics, and exploration, and learning how good it feels to be successful at something, that it ignited a spirit for learning, that despite the best efforts of our public schools (and I have attended public schools exclusively for my whole academic career), that spirit was never quashed. Unfortunately for kids today, their expeditionary spirit is trampled some where during 2 and 7th grades and the main motivation to attend high school for many is purely social.

Unleash the expeditionary spirit, provide them with educators of many stripes, and get out of their way. Each one should teach at least one, but expanding the pool of both teachers and subject matter will open the door to all kinds of learners and all kids can find a niche that allows them to be the best that they can be. This is a move away from a "contribute if you can" modus operandi toward an "everyone has something of value to teach another." That is, value is placed on each and every individual and the assumption is not one of complacency, but that each individual has the capacity to learn toward the level of excelling in a particular area and also could teach in that arena once they are able to become expert (which they can and do) in their own field.


Ken Grandlund said...

Thanks once again for the cross post. I like your concept of citizen teaching as it fits in quite nicely with my theories on public service, first written in the following post:

There's more to come re: education reform and with creative ideas, we can both improve the quality and the efficiency of our educational endeavors.

(BTW- I note in your next post you are in San Diego. I'm in that neck of the woods as well. Small world I guess.)

Anonymous said...

if we give them everything they ask for and expect nothing in return, we can’t blame them for becoming uneducated, disrespectful, anti-social adults

Most children grow up okay. Only a small percentage end up in prison. The rest muddle through.

The whole concept of parents raising children is one of misplaced emphasis. Children raise their parents to be responsible adults. They start out as wild animals. Their parents are wild animals, too. But their parents see that being stuck with wild children is not a good state of affairs and work to change it. The children move out into the world semi-civilized until, as parents, children of their own raise them to adulthood.

Education per se is supposed to accelerate a student's knowledge of the world. This was Woodrow Wilson's view. Unfortunately, there's no proof that that happens. ''The world is a difficult school, but fools will learn in no other.'' (Ben Franklin) So why not boot the kiddies out into the world sooner? In colonial days from which we are not that far removed, children worked as soon as they were able. There's no reason that they couldn't work today but for the affluence of their parents and their parents unwillingness to employ them.

Many books have been written on ''education.'' One contends that education is socialization for the workplace. Definition: a place where one does a mind-boggling boring task at the direction of others for 8 hours or more 5 or 6 days a week. Under that definition, education today is perfect. So don't fault ''education'' for not doing it's job.

If you're proposing a different scenario for education, know that a plan without a means of putting itself into effect is useless. How are you going to pay for your proposal? And how are you going to make the transition?


A proposal to change the income tax for a tax on consumption: a value-added tax or a national sales tax. Sounds good to those proposing it.

But it has already been blown out of the water by a Letter to the Wall Street Journal. ''We paid income tax to get the money we now have, and now you want to tax it again?''


It's all well and good to dream grand schemes but unless you can figure out how to pay for them, and how to transition from what we now have (an educational system that serves to make people docile for the market and works surprising well at doing it), fugedaboudit.