School change: Educated or Knowledgeable?

by Steve Wyckoff on June 8, 2010

In my many discussions with educators about school change I often run into individuals with thoughts and ideas that really resonate with me. One of those individuals is Ted Hill. Ted retired last year as principal of Erie High School and was kind enough to write the following post. Thanks to Ted!
Educated or Knowledgeable
Having been an educator for more than 35 years, I wonder if there is a difference in these two words.  If there is a difference, which is it that we are doing in education.  Are we producing young people that are well educated, or are they knowledgeable young people?  After much thought, I have come to conclusion that we are producing both and that neither is what is truly most important.  What we need to be able to produce in education are young people that can apply knowledge and expand upon the knowledge they possess.
If our premise is that we need for our young to be able to apply and expand upon knowledge, is that what is being done in education settings today.  Also, is this what educators are being held accountable to producing?
Educators are being judged as showing accountability by having their students perform well on tests over a set of state established standards.  Then in secondary school are judged on how well a group of their students do on ACT and SAT tests.  Which everyone knows is not really a reliable measure of a student’s success in college.
Where are our students going to apply this knowledge that they are being tested on?  Yes, some knowledge in language usage will be very helpful in writing something of importance later on in life.  Being able to read and comprehend what is read will also be useful skills.  For some of the students, mathematical skills will be applied in their future endeavors.  Also, if any of them happen to get on a quiz show like Jeopardy they will be prepared.
I recently viewed a video of a speech given by Sir Ken Robinson on  No this is not my website; I can only wish that it was.  In his speech he makes a case for the need for education to make a radical shift from standardized schools to ones providing more personalized learning.
Viewing this video sparked again the thoughts that I have held for a long time now.  Education has a way of squashing creativity and tries to educate the masses like we mass produce commodities.  People are not commodities; they are individuals that come with a wide variety of skills, abilities, interests, and desires.  We cannot expect all of them to conveniently fit into one education model.
A few years ago along with a group of dedicated educators in the Erie, Kansas school system, I stumbled across a method of education that does break from the traditional and allows for a more personalized approach.  It allows a student to truly apply knowledge and expand upon their knowledge while exploring things that they are interested in.  It is called Project Based Learning.
In project based learning, the student still is educated around the state standards established for each subject area.  The student demonstrates understanding of the standards by doing projects that are on something that is highly interesting to him/her and relate this learning to the standards in a number of subjects.  Over the course of time, the student will meet all of the standards for a specific subject by doing a number of projects.  Each project is not singularly focused on only one subject, but may relate to a number of subjects.
The student in this model has ownership in his/her education, and it is personalized around their interests and abilities.  Creativity is fostered and allowed to flourish.  A passion for education has the opportunity to develop.  The student, also, learns to apply the knowledge they are achieving.  Isn’t that what educators and students wish education to be like.
Rote memorization is far outdated.  If a person is need of some obscure fact, they can find it in a matter of seconds on the World Wide Web.  The ability of that person to apply that fact to something that is beneficial is where the true value of education lies.  I am glad that before my time as an educator was complete, I was able to see the proper kind of education in action.
I will be happy to discuss this further and answer questions.  Just e-mail me at the address below and I will respond.
Ted Hill

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