School change: how we organize high schools makes no sense.

by Steve Wyckoff on October 12, 2010

School change at the high school level needs to begin with completely rethinking how we organize learning for students. That is, if we want kids to be able to do something with what they know, rather than simply knowing a lot of stuff for tests. That’s a big assumption. Schools presently are organized perfectly to give kids a lot of discrete information within any given academic discipline.

But I believe that in the 21st century what we really want is for students to be able to do something with the knowledge and information that they have. Being prepared for the 21st-century is more about the habits of behavior necessary in the 21st century than to simply knowing a lot of factual information for tests.

To help you understand I want to use an example that I’ve been using for many years. I always ask at the end of the example where my example is wrong. I have yet to have anybody tell me my example doesn’t hold up. So here it is.

If high schools were responsible for teaching basketball.

In high school were responsible for teaching basketball this is how we would organize the learning experience for students.The typical student schedule would look something like this.

1st Hour – Dribbling
2nd Hour – Shooting
3rd Hour – Passing
4th Hour – Rebounding
5th Hour – Offensive and Defense
6th Hour – History and Philosophy of Basketball
7th Hour – English Literature

We’d teach the students about dribbling, about shooting, about rebounding, etc. etc. instead of teaching them to dribble and teaching them to shoot, etc. etc. Even that creative teacher who would let them dribble or shoot etc. etc. would be doing it in isolation of the rest of the skills of basketball.

In addition we’d have them learn basketball by sitting and listening while the teacher explained and demonstrated in the front of the room. And we’d only allow them to play the game of basketball AFTER they graduate! And regardless of whether they were 5’6″ or 7’6″ they would get exactly the same curriculum and learn the same things.

It would be up to them to figure out what position and what knowledge and skills were appropriate for them.

By the way, we’d obviously have them learn English literature because for some reason dead white European male authors seem to be sacred regardless the educational system.

I think that you would agree that this would be a crazy way to teach basketball. It is no less a crazy way to organize our high schools if we want to prepare our kids for the 21st-century. Teaching discrete subjects in isolation may lead to short-term memorization of facts within the discipline, but it does nothing to prepare our kids for their future.

Just as in the basketball example, if we want our kids to function in the 21st century we need to give them experiences that, at the very least, simulate the world they are going to live in. Real school change in high schools should begin by dumping the Carnegie schedule .- Steve Wyckoff

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