Think and Wonder, Wonder and Think

“Think left and think right
and think low and think high
Oh! The Thinks you can think up
if only you try!”
– Dr. Seuss

I was going through some articles when I came across a TED Blog post that listed The 20 Most Watched TED Talks to Date. I found out that Ken Robinson’s talk, Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Creativity, tops the list.

As a teacher, this makes me both happy and bothered. Happy, because people seem to care enough about this issue but bothered because I know that the prevailing thought or reaction here is this – schools (as institutions) are considered irrelevant and unimportant by a lot of people. Countless times have I heard people say, “I didn’t really learn much from school.” Or at least some variation of that.

When I was in college, I remember being taught how to make lesson plans. While our class was struggling how to phrase SMART (every teacher knows this haha!) objectives, I had these questions lingering in my head: How do I know what my students should know? How do I know if something’s really important or relevant? Isn’t it such a huge task to determine what my students should know? How do I avoid bias? 

I’ve often been blamed for thinking too much and I thought I was just falling prey to that habit of mine again… but lo and behold, our teacher then didn’t think they were nonsense questions. The funny thing is, it’s been about seven years since then and I thought I’d be closer to finding the answers – I’m not. Or at least I thought I’d figure things out a little bit more. This kind of discontent (in not being being able to think about them much) nagged me. It nagged me because I watched students slave over school, cram information into their heads and practice methods they probably won’t need in the future. And my students were in the first and second grade – they still had more than ten years of enduring such things.

This is one of the main reasons why I stopped being a classroom teacher. I felt like I needed more time to explore and think about what I do. I still believe in education and having some sort of institution that facilitates learning but something has to change in terms of what kind of learning we offer students.

I’ve been out of the classroom for almost two years and this is probably one of the best learning experiences for me as a teacher. Though my job requires me to work with schools, being an “outsider” has helped me develop more of an appreciation for what I used to do, and at the same time, get a better grasp of the reality that exists outside schools. What do I mean? All my life, I’ve stayed in school – from preschool to college and my first job, the only reality and environment I’ve ever known was school. Now that I get to experience corporate life, I’ve learned about the different demands that these kinds of jobs have. From the jobs that require manual labor and vocational skills to jobs that require managerial and supervisory skills – I realize that there is, indeed, a gap in what schools have to offer these individuals.

“Reform is no use anymore, because that’s simply improving a broken model… What we need is not an evolution, but a REVOLUTION in education. This has to be transformed into something else.”

– Ken Robinson, TED, 2007

It’s been about four years since I first heard Ken Robinson’s TED talk and his words sparked my interest in reading and researching about alternative forms of education. It made me think about the subjects we teach in schools. Why are some considered the major subjects? Why did we classify learning or information that way? Why should students be grouped by age? Who gets to decide the scope and sequence of what we should learn? How should they learn? And the list goes on.

Who are you and what do you want to do?

Yesterday, I attended Visprint’s event Writers in Talks or WIT 2012. A writer named Alan Navarra posed those questions when he talked about creating characters. I realized that those two questions are generally what we discern and mull about for the rest of our lives. I sat there thinking about how my education helped (or is helping) me answer those questions. And to turn the tables around, what kind of learning do we offer our students so that they can also figure this out?

What should students learn from schools?

 I think this is a question that we should continuously ask ourselves as teachers. Why must we teach what we teach? If we cannot answer this ourselves, then we should reevaluate and rethink things on our end. The monumental task of determining how a person should be is such a huge responsibility. And because we are put in this privileged position of helping shape people’s minds and identities, we owe it to them to put that much thought in what we do. As Dr. Steve Perry said, “We have an obligation to take this mighty profession, this mighty calling, and make it better than it was when we came in to it… We have an obligation. We understand what we signed up for… I knew what I signed up for. I knew exactly what I signed up for. And for those of you who don’t know by now, you signed up for the same thing. And if this is too hard for you, find something else to do.”

And just to inspire you to think more about what and how we should teach our students, here’s another video by Sugata Mitra!

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