Schools are already in the “real” world. They just aren’t taking advantage of their external environments in creative and contemporary ways. Instead they are still using old models for new learning. Put new wine into old wine skins and what happens? They burst, wasting the wine. Too much energy, time and resources have been spent on correcting mistakes rather than getting it right the first time.
Educators must be clear about how to make things work and take it a step at a time and keep backing up before going forward into unknown territory. Before you can play a piece of music, it helps to learn the notes, where the fingers go on certain instruments and then practice, practice, practice.
It’s the same with sports. Much more time is spent practicing than in playing the game. Certain kinds of athletic skills are developed and finally mastered in order to play the game at the highest level. I wonder if we make the mistake of trying to get to the performance too soon, before the skills are refined and there is a sufficient level of confidence in those skills to be effective?
School might be restructured more like the real world and organized according to areas of interest. There are signs of that with magnet schools and some other specialized schools in science and the arts. I would not have been particularly interested in mechanics and robotics but there are plenty of kids who are.
I would have been drawn to a school that focused on reading, writing and producing whether essays, books, plays and movies or in telling stories of people in different cultures. But, I would not have wanted to miss an introduction to science, engineering, technology, math and the arts. That sounds a lot like STEAM and PBL.
I think it’s time to reexamine why schools are structured the way they are and perhaps shift not only the paradigm for educating kids but building entirely different models for different kinds of schools for different kinds of kids. The schools all look too much alike and smell the same. Kids are different and schools need to be different too, much more so than they are.
In the real world there are there are engineering, scientific, manufacturing and distribution jobs. There are the worlds of design, retail and entertainment. There are unlimited opportunities in health care, public service and education itself. Kids need to see all of those, and more, up close and personal. They know that there are huge problems in the world needing their talents and skills to solve. That will require a complete overhaul of the system, not just introducing technology and updating methods and environments. The focus on changing the delivery system is a good start but it’s only a beginning and there’s much more to be done.
Yes, kids need basic skills of effective communication and presentation and they need to understand the value of social interactions without depending wholly on the internet, cell phones, texts and face factories. What keeps schools from radically altering their identities is not only their marriage to the status quo but also their lack of preparation to make the shift.
IF you were starting over, how would you do it? What would you do differently and what is preventing you from doing that now? Look at the obstacles and either dismantle them or leave the old behind and find a new wine skin. One example among many others evolving currently is Big Picture Schools. Here the design components are based on three foundation principles: first, learning must be based on the interests and goals of each student; second, a student’s curriculum must be relevant to the people and places that exist in the real world; and finally, a student’s abilities must be authentically measured by the quality of her or his work.
Here’s another new model that includes action-oriented research: