Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of becoming ( Goethe)
I can imagine the classroom of the future and it doesn’t look at all like the present format. No, it will not disappear: I do not espouse, for obvious reasons, Mr. Santorum’s opinion that students should be homeschooled ; his disdain for public education is a clear invitation to class warfare. Only the wealthy and the well-educated could teach their children all the academic areas needed to succeed in real life. Even then, these kids would become recluse, lacking the essential social relationships with their peers. One can observe the daily shuffle in the schools: Some students going to an Estudiantina class where they learn how to play the guitar; others have soccer or football practice, or art, or the pillars of a good education, Languages, Math, Science and Social Studies. But nowadays, in most schools, the physical equipment is sadly outmoded. Uncomfortable desks, whittled by the past generations, torture young bodies and make learning unpleasant. The teacher lectures for 20 minutes, models during another 10 minutes, and walks around the rest of the period to make sure they are doing what is expected. Our modern technology should offer a better, more efficient learning environment.
Yes, there is a lack of funding, a lack of training for teachers in the latest tools of technology, and, worse of all, a lack of willingness by school authorities to make the necessary changes. Quite a few improvements could be made without spending a fortune: Instead of the traditional 45 or 50 minutes of instruction, as if learning had to be measured on a chronometer, allow the natural course of instruction to take place. A kid is not a well-programmed machine; he has mood changes, he gets tired, he has needs, physical and mental, and yet, the system will treat him the same way it treats every student. Let the children play instructive games; vary the rhythm of classes, they don’t have to be exactly the same length. We don’t have to condition them to a bell, as if saying “you stop learning right now because I said so.” Let K-12 become more like college, where students are given more freedom and more responsibilities. But let’s also make classes more elastic in time and more fun for the kids.
If my words sound like heresy, I clap in contentment, for only a revolution in education can give us a well-prepared new generation. Steve Jobs was able to change the way we communicate and research, and yet public education has remained, for the most part, 40 years behind. School districts have such strict filters when accessing internet that the poor students and teachers are deprived of the freedom to explore and learn. Sites that are perfectly harmless are inaccessible due to inefficient software meant to protect young minds. Students want to read, as one of my pupils told me, but just not in a book as he pulled his iPod and entered “Hamlet” in the Google box. Shakespeare tragedies are chock-full of murders and betrayals, and some comedies by the great bard play with graphic sexual innuendos. Is that a problem for our older students or does it simply reflect human nature?
Money? Money, you say, for education won’t solve the problem or improve knowledge; I beg to differ, ladies and gentlemen, money well-spent can change the traditional hand-down method to one of blissful discovery. Imagine an elementary school smack in the middle of a zoo; wouldn’t the kids love it and if they loved it, wouldn’t they learn about life and come out of that school well-trained for larger goals and challenges?
That was just an idealized example of what a future school would look like, but if we can spend billions in armament, can’t we use some of that to really effect a profound change in our educational system?