Sunday, October 6, 2013

Empowering Education

Seth Godin demands we Stop Stealing Dreams

Empowering Education, by Ira Shor, reviewed the foundation of my teacher education training many years ago. I revisited the philosophies of Piaget, Dewey, and Friere, amongst others, and was reminded of what most education students learn in their 101 classes: successful learning happens best in active, creative classrooms, that education and curriculum are political choices, education is a socialization process in which compliance has been emphasized, and that testing - especially standardized exams - are also political choices. What schools ought to be are places of empowerment for students, where student-centered classrooms create "change agents and social critics." To do so, "participatory pedagogy, designed from cooperative exercises, critical thought, student experience, and negotiating authority in class, can help students feel they are in sufficient command of the learning process to perform at their peak."

I started this blog with a TED talk by Seth Godin, an entrepreneur who restated much of this article via 21st century methods; he sums up what public schools were originally designed for - not to create scholars or even thinkers, but to educate compliant factory workers. He sets the tone for where schools ought to be today. Another forward thinking educator, curriculum specialist Heidi Hayes Jacobs, takes the well recognized ideas of Piaget, Dewey and Friere and asks us "What year are you preparing your students for?" She suggests most schools today are preparing students for 1982, not 2014 and this not only ties into Empowering Education but gives shape to how schools can actually put into action what Shor espouses. She reminds educators that our students need media, digital and global literacy skills and that schools should not be reformed, a term that relates to tweaking the status quo, but rather that we need new forms of schools that engage students with upgraded skills, dynamic curricula, and project-based assessments that are in step with an ever changing global society.

Heidi Hayes Jacobs' vision is not to reform schools but create new forms of schools

Unfortunately, many of our schools, while embracing 21st century skills in theory, discourage teachers from taking the lead in giving students what they need to excel in the world into which they will graduate. Our Rhode Island schools, helmed by Debra Gist, are driven by 20th century assessments via multiple choice standardized tests, curriculum choices that prepare students to perform well on these high-stakes tests, and a need for compliance by teachers to accept this mediocrity in order to earn the moniker of "highly effective."

What our students truly need - and what Shor argues - is an opportunity to be educated in creative ways. The type of classrooms that Shor, Godin and Hayes Jacobs envision are places where lessons are project based and inquiry driven wherein students ask questions and investigate answers via interdisciplinary research. These lessons have global connections, and are perhaps even connected to other globally-based classrooms wherein cooperative - not competitive learning - takes place. They are not classrooms driven by textbooks and teacher lectures, but rather by investigations designed to solve problems or to create something new.

Here is one such educator that shows how this can be accomplished, David Thormburg in his video The Evolving Classroom:

Let's hope our schools can catch up to 2014 - before it's too late.




  1. Love how you use the TED talks to punctuate this... perfect way to talk about Shor as an historical anchor to modern ideas.

  2. Polly I love your TED talk choices. They were all so inspirational. I wish that I could do more inquiry based teaching...really that is how science is meant to be taught. Kids don"t care about making mistakes..they don't care about being's more about the journey.