We are preparing our students for life. I hear so many educators use this sentence when asked what is the purpose of education? Many years ago I believed that to be true as well. Maybe many generations back it may have been true. In consideration of all that I observe, even with some great innovation, and a whole bunch of technology integration that is taking place in so many schools across the country, I don’t believe “preparing our students for life” is the focus or goal of education today. The real irony is that school for kids is real life, a fact often overlooked by educators.
The most obvious reason this is not the case is that we don’t have a clue what the future holds for our children. We will have them in public schools for 13 years. Try to envision what it was like looking backwards to the world as we knew it then. 1999 was quite a different world. We had scarcely a clue of what to expect to find in 2012. The only way to prepare kids for life was to make adjustments every step of the way. The education system does not favor on-the-fly adjustments. The education system needs to weigh, deliberate and consider each and every change. It must all be research-based, and research takes time. Education is not ahead of the curve in incorporating technology in learning, it continues to play catch up. A technology-driven society does not allow the luxury of catching up. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.
Content in past decades was slow to change. Even as advances were made in science, history, geography and literature, the world itself moved at a slower pace, so time and change were less critical. We had a print media that was driven by time-sensitive events, but the time was stretched out by print deadlines. Textbooks were relevant for longer periods of time. Today, whole countries that were in existence a short while back have changed names, boundaries, populations and cultures seemingly overnight. Our outdated textbooks that we continue to use cannot keep up with the rapid change of the world today. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.
We have research showing different modalities of learning. We embrace differentiation in teaching. We strive for inclusion of all students to learn in a single teaching environment while addressing individual strengths for learning. We talk about personalized learning for each student. We use individualized learning plans to maximize learning. We recognize that all kids are created different. Even in consideration of all of that, we standardize their assessment. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.
We hold up the innovators as models. Innovators are our 21st-century heroes. We encourage out-of-the-box thinking while restricting our teachers to in-the-box teaching and assessing it with in-the-box tests. We want our students to be innovative but require them to be compliant with teaching methods of the past. Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.
Why do we continue to limit the learning time of our students in order to do test preparation? How can we continue to insist that kids limit themselves with the cramming of content for a test instead of using their skills to get that content anywhere and at any time? How can we continue to prepare our students for a tech-driven culture demanding critical thinking skills and the ability to problem solve by assessing their content retention? We are not matching up the skills that our children will need in a future that we know little about to the education that we provide today? Yet, we still claim to be preparing kids for life.
We cannot continue on the current path of education if we want to prepare our children for their future. Our children will not live in the world that we grew up in. We need to prepare them to be flexible, critical thinking, problem solvers. They need to be able to get beyond the limitations of their teachers and parents. Our kids are not empty vessels to be filled with content in order to pass a standardized test. Each day, as technology moves faster, that fact is driven home with more emphasis. Will we ever be able to truly claim that we are effectively preparing kids for life?
Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) is an adjunct professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in New York. He previously spent 34 years as a secondary English teacher in the public school system. He was recognized with an Edublog Award for the Most Influential Educational Twitter Series, #Edchat, which he co-founded. Whitby also created The Educator’s PLN and two LinkedIn groups, Technology-Using Professors and Twitter-Using Educators.