Recently I attended the National Conference on Education in New Orleans and the question above was posed to myself along with thousands of other superintendents. I immediately began trying to wrap my arms around it but my mind began taking me in a number of different directions.
The question was followed by statistics that stated gross national product continues to increase at the same time unemployment continues to increase. Many jobs that once required human hands are now being controlled by a computer chip. The items you buy from Amazon are in the hands of a human less than one minute. The items are shipped around by robots and travel on conveyor belts for miles within the Amazon Fulfillment Centers before being shipped to your door.
This is mind boggling. And then just this week we hear about major department stores having to close their doors or file bankruptcy. You have to wonder; are we truly preparing our students for a world of unemployment? Technology is replacing much of the work of humans. What will we need human hands for? How should our schools be responding to this transformation?
To answer that last question – many schools are not responding. Classrooms across the country continue to educate children in very traditional ways. What I mean by this is that the primary focus in these rooms is for the students to take notes, memorize, and regurgitate the info on an assessment. It’s completely focussed on existing knowledge and this existing knowledge is not being used in many of our jobs today. John Dewey may have said it best when he stated that “if we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” Let’s face it our schools are still measured by what a child knows rather than what a child can do. But much of the knowledge we know today and we knew yesterday will soon become obsolete. Then what? Is it more important for schools to measure a child’s knowledge or is it more important for schools to measure a child’s ability to create knowledge?
Are we robbing children of a future? I do believe, in many classrooms around the country we are educating students today the same way we educated them yesterday, and the day before yesterday, and the day before that, and fifty years ago. Unfortunately I do believe in these circumstances students are not getting the education they need.
I hope you haven’t lost hope though. We can change this. We are changing this right here in Beulah and it starts with embracing the individual talents and gifts that every child brings through our doors every single day. It starts with a celebration and appreciation for each child and for who they are. From there we create a culture where it is o.k. to fail. It is o.k. to take risks. When you allow students to own their learning, they will take it to levels unimaginable. When you turn traditional classrooms into innovation centers the teachers win, the students win, and society wins.
Schools that center themselves around conformity are ultimately embracing complacency. The world in which we live today is everything but complacent. And guess what? We need human hands. We will always need human hands. We need these hands creating the next new thing. We need innovative student minds thinking of the next new thing. We no longer can focus on product because the end will always be just another beginning. It’s the journey. The journey we put our students on today will determine their tomorrow.
To prepare our students for the unknown future we must allow them to be creative. We must allow them to collaborate, communicate, and to think critically. We must allow them to create new knowledge. We must allow them to use the gifts that each of them has. And let me tell you, our students have some amazing gifts. Our teachers have amazing gifts. We are doing great things in Beulah and I couldn’t be more proud as a superintendent and a parent in this district.
Our students will be prepared for the future, no matter what that future may look like.
Before I leave you, I just figured I should apologize for starting many of my sentences with “and” and “but.” It just made more sense – and after-all that was something we were taught not to do yesterday. 🙂