Are American Students World-Ready?

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There are many reasons for a child to receive a compulsory education.  In ancient Greek and Roman cultures it meant training young men for military service.  During the post Civil War era it provided leaders for the industrial age.  Many modern students focus on career-preparedness.  Before we can address “education reform” we have to have an objective.  Any teacher knows that lessons plans begin with a goal.  What is the goal of a transformation in how we teach?  A new term that has cropped up in many blogs is world-readiness.  The information age, a period of development that may prove more potent than the European Renaissance, provides for global networking that could barely be imagined in the fast-moving 1970’s and 80’s and even 90’s when many teachers were having their own student experience.  Our students can now see children in remote villages all over the world in real-time.  American kids can see videos of their Japanese counterparts’ decimated homes shot with cell phones on the day the tsunami struck.

Instead of identifying these fast times as too fast and fighting to hold this technology at arm’s length, we have an opportunity to engage students in a conversation to help them identify what information is useful, entertaining or meaningful.  By learning to categorize the information that comes in at what we old farts qualify as “too fast”, young people will begin to make valuable fast-paced decisions that insure world-readiness.

The hit-and-miss style of education we’ve been pursuing probably looks to kids like a grand game of Whac-a-Mole.  Take a whack at the math mole, then swing for the science mole before an arts mole pops his head up for a split second. While this compartmentalization of subjects has served a purpose, a change is long overdue.  We have to address the need for world-readiness by teaching and mentoring students in the decision-making process rather than in the traditional “reading, writing and arithmetic” model.  In his own style, Stephen Nachmanovitch promotes this type of learning as does James Gee.  Nachmanovitch says,  “The important thing is to start someplace, anyplace.” While Gee points out “We can put you [the student] into a goal-directed world in which you’re directed to solving problems.” They both agree that holistic learning can have value far beyond the surface subject area.  Study after study shows that when kids are allowed to research, try out different scenarios, problem-solve with their peers and fail without the consequences of poor grades and low scores, their learning has legs.  Digging to the deepest part of a problem garners answers even teachers miss.  This kind of learning is invigorating but scary.  If educators don’t have the answers, we become students as well.  The possibility of creating a learning environment where students can choose a medium and pursue the ancillary subjects while learning the basics makes curriculum choice a real option.  Learners can choose what interests them and identify the information trail they want to follow.  This is closer to the real world than anything we are currently doing in education today.

World-readiness is about having the tools and soft skills to make meaningful choices.  Too many young people are graduating from college without the ability to make a potentially wrong decision.  Our current education model frowns upon risk-taking and yet it is one of the absolutely essential skills for solving world crises.

As teachers we can help students develop their own determinism.  If they are learning anything outside of school it is this cause-and-effect model we echo so poorly in the school setting.  We have an opportunity while this conversation is gaining momentum, to make certain we know why we want education to change.  Get ready world, here comes the next generation.

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