Five Changes Every School Should Make

Flickr:ShineaLight

In her book Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking), Duke University professor Cathy Davidson talks about how the education system must be overhauled.

"Her recommendations center on one of the most astounding revelations of the digital age: Even academically reticent students publish work prolifically, subject it to critique and improve it on the Internet. This goes for everything from political commentary to still photography to satirical videos — all the stuff that parents and teachers habitually read as “distraction,” writes Virginia Heffernan in the New York Times review of Davidson's book recently.

In last week's article "How Do We Prepare Our Children for What's Next," Davidson listed five changes she would put in place to bring the American education system into the 21st century. I'm reposting this part because I think it's worth calling out separately.


By Cathy Davidson
  1. End standardized end-of-grade tests. They demotivate learning and good teaching. Instead, test in challenging ways, using tough game mechanics with real-time feedback on results so kids can learn from the test—not be taught to scam the test!
  2. Make all learning real, relevant, tied to communities, with real application in the kids’ lives outside of the classroom. Example: Ban research papers—unless they are published online and have an informative, persuasive, or other real purpose for others. Learning should have an impact beyond getting an “A” on  the assignment.
  3. Teach kids to think through, with, about, for–and create–new, interactive digital global communication. I don’t mean this as an add on. I mean rethinking all the subjects we now teach in view of the possibilities (what techies call “affordances”) of the digital age. That means getting rid of the “two cultures” binary. STEM subjects are impoverished without creativity, analysis, critical thinking. The Information Age is about putting back together the knowledge that the Industrial Age subdivided. A simpler way is to say have them all learn Scratch multimedia programming and think about the possibilities.
  4. Restore arts, music, shop, P.E., dance: Kids need the soul-stirring learning that lets them move, make, sing, create, dream.
  5. Eliminate the “college prep” and AP distinctions, and stop making college the implicit standard for all education, back to preschool. Many worthy careers don’t need higher ed.   Many careers that don’t need higher ed still need a liberal arts education in creative, applied, cross-disciplinary thinking, all of which are as necessary to run your whole hair salon or motorcycle repair shop as they are to get a law degree. Conversely, make college free and open to everyone, at any age. Now, that would be a game changer!

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