I learned a lot in school, just not from my teachers

Nine Dangerous Things You Were Taught In School by Jessica Hagy, is a fantastic education retrospective. Upon extensive reflection, some yoga, and a lot of green tea, we clearly attended different schools. Yes, there were many insidious and unspoken lessons in school. And I agree completely that students will “have to unlearn them” if they want to thrive. Yet somehow, what I took away from school was different.

What do I need to unlearn? I definitely was not a great student. Good grades were celebrated at my house. When I was clearly having too much fun, I got sent to harder school. We did not celebrate again for a while. To me, I always seemed to be learning. Yes, there were rules, but somehow I learned early on about angles and latitude. College was a given, but there was no pressure to conform. Was it the rural Midwest landscape? Some of my best friends were card carrying members of Future Farmers of America and 4-H. I did get my first job at thirteen? Maybe I just got a batch of eclectic teachers?

Maybe the concept of school was similar, but different variables resulted in vastly different school experiences? Sure, I was not overly fond of school, but it had its moments. I heard about the starving kids in China. Turns out in China, there were stories of starving kids in Africa. Talk about early spin. I had my share of passionate and “less passionate” teachers. I got through them all. Yet, somehow I picked up on an unspoken/surreptitious undercurrent.

  1. Question Authority! School was filled with historical references to people shaking things up. Whether it was taxation, liberty, the industrial revolution, or voting rights, I learned that people could create different realities. So, when I did not like an answer, I asked questions. Sometimes there was further discussion, sometimes there was not. Most times I was dispatched to the library. I went on to build robots, venture to big cities, and even plan a Grade Eight trip to our national’s capital. Sure, we never made it, but I learned early on that the teachers were only going to get you so far.
  2. Show & Tell Rocked!. Students, teachers, and even parents brought in cool stuff. Everyone had a story. And those that were interesting, you sought out to learn more. You went over and tried to borrow whatever it was. If his/her parents have a strict “no lending policy,” you invited yourself over. If that did not work, then you asked all the questions you could. Where’d you get it? How much was it? How long have you had it?
  3. Pay Attention! Yes, there were different rules for different people, e.g., Teacher’s Pet & Goodie Two Shoes. You had to get past those though if you did not want to be teased. I noticed teachers liked it when you asked questions. Offer a little physical labor, wind an extension cord, move a desk, carry some great smelling ditto copies, teachers liked it. Swing by the lunch counter at clean up, you might get free cake. School/life was coming together nicely for me by Grade Eight. To keep me humble, I was sent to the citys top high school. Talk about challenge based learning?
  4. Supplements to the Book! No dispute, the textbook was the go to place for information and answers. Occasionally though, a topic came up that was too new. Unlucky students got told to choose a new topic. Lucky students found their way to the library. And if they were really lucky, they found Reader’s Guide to Period Literature. Note to reader, I noticed a correlation to “lucky” and those students who paid attention. Of course, this is just my observation.
  5. Standardized Testing Wouldn’t Kill Me! I was horrible at standardize tests. And I am a little proud to say; I never quite learned how to take them, apart from the ones at the DMV. Maybe I was warped early by all those law dramas my Dad made me watch, i.e. every case was winnable. I knew I was bright. My parents favorite phrase was, “you’re a bright kid, you just need to apply yourself.” Of course, according to the government, I was not bright. Lucky for me, no one in my educational career focused on this fact.
  6. Snow Days Could Get Boring! Believe it or not, you can only watch so much daytime television. I did learn a lot about value, worth, and probability from the Price is Right. In the absence of school and cable, thank goodness for copies of the magazine Boys Life and the book the Boy Mechanic.  I learned a lot about making igloos and Eskimos. When we did make it back to school, I stocked up on books at the library. Unfortunately, I could find no whale blubber in Southern Ohio.

Where did this undercurrent come from? It came from my parents. They somehow engineered a reasonable balance of push, pull and slack. In my mind, there could have been more slack. There were trips into New York City when I could have been playing with toys or watching television. We shopped at a historic inner city market house instead of the A&P or the IGA supermarkets. The library was a weekly trip and twice a week in the summer. I red and was red to. Television was a family activity where shows were vetted and many ruled inappropriate or “a waste of time.” I learned to use chopsticks at age ten. Talk about a patient mother. We talked about the future, theirs and mine.  And family friends streamed our house or dining room table on their way to their next adventure. Ah, the stories!

Learning is now a team sport and parents need to be in the game. Technology brings fabulous opportunities along with new responsibilities. Shirk these responsibilities and who knows what your son or daughter will need to unlearn. Technology is not a makeshift babysitter. It is a tool that requires ongoing collaboration and monitoring.  You may want to be their friend, but do keep in mind the there are different job descriptions for parent and friend. My parents did!

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Learning & Leadership

With focus and self-discipline, quality learning will continue. By concentrating less on outcomes and more on how and why, students will understand that knowledge is a process and not something you look up. Those who can navigate change while they balance creativity and leadership will ensure a framework for students to be life long learners.

With technology, we can slip in and out of learning while we are at school; we used to learn at school and live our regular lives outside. While revolutionary for the ingenious learner, technology can represent a multiple challenge for the undisciplined student. Instant knowledge lies at a student’s fingertips and at no intellectual cost. School must guide students to infuse their learning with integrity and self-respect.

Students should know how to identify, filter, assess, and tag data. Without these skills, quality learning does not stand a chance. Students who simply repackage secondary source learning miss the essential critical aspect of education. Schools must coach students out of their safety zones, challenge them to take risks, and lead them to ask more of their social networks. Students who assemble information from the Internet and tag it for later use will enhance the value of that knowledge for themselves. A school that can teach the value and technique of this methodology will see students produce at peak levels.

Correct answers are no longer an adequate gauge of successful schooling. Schools must key expected outcomes to the skills students need to be modern learners. Correct answers are simply the result of an arithmetic logic. With answers already at our fingertips, schools need to teach students how to devise questions, how to state those questions in the complex algorithms that can deliver the complex answers to our complex questions. With Google about to present catalogs of every human thought, schools must accent the how and why.

Learning and leadership are indispensable for change. Leadership in schools will always be about people. Good leaders know both how to add value and how to get out of the way. They manage transparently and are detail oriented in their communication. They are active listeners and keen observers. Change happens around them and they continually evolve the concept of learning. Good leaders reinforce peoples’ motivations and push them to challenge themselves.

The institution of school must teach students the necessary self-discipline to keep them focused on learning. Answers can be copied and pasted. Students who can use information critically will become tomorrow’s leaders. Schools will be assessed on the innovative solutions they inspired and coached students to produce.