Sunday, August 29, 2010

Education is not the filling of a pail...

You don't have to know me very long to find out that I am a quote guy.  What I mean by that is that I love quotes.  I think their allure for me is some combination of my fascination with history and my drive toward efficiency.  I love learning from the past.  I enjoy gaining wisdom from those who have gone before me.  That being said, I don't want to read volume after volume of classic works to gain that knowledge.  That is where quotes come in...they are like the Cliffs Notes of knowledge...just the facts, none of the filler.

One of my favorite educationally related quotes is this: "Education is not the filling of a pail, but rather the lighting of a fire."  It is not a new concept, William Buckner Yates is credited with saying it in the early 1900's.  But the simple truth in this quote has the power, if applied correctly, to shake much of our educational system to the core.  If we asked many American students which educational analogy seemed most accurate to them...the filling of a pail or the lighting of a fire, I would venture that many of them would liken it to the filling of the pail.  I know much of my life as a student was spent by teachers trying to fill my pail.  They poured in multiplication tables and sentence structure and verb conjugations and the stages of photosynthesis and the list goes on.  I figured out early that the teacher was the smart one and they would dispense knowledge to me.  I learned that I was blessed with a pretty good pail.  It had plenty of room and it didn't seem to leak much.  The teacher would pour the knowledge in, and come test time, most of it was still there for me to pour back out.  Every kid had a different pail.  Some were better than mine, a lot were worse.  We eventually figured out that the ones who could learn, remember, and regurgitate knowledge were the "smart kids"  the ones who couldn't, were not.  Kids figure this out quick, and it is one of the most dangerous lessons they learn.  Most kids are their own worst critics.  By the time they reach upper elementary they know exactly what kind of pail they have and if theirs makes it difficult to memorize and regurgitate, they have labeled themselves as poor students and have already begun to check out.    What they don't realize is that they are not poor students, they are poor memorizers.  In my opinion, there should be a difference. 

Now would be a good time to issue a disclaimer.  I am not trying to say that we should abandon all facts and that kids should not memorize 4x4 is 16.  There are basic facts and mental procedures that we all need to know and be able to do.  What I am suggesting however, is that, especially at the high school level, we need to take the time to put down the pail and light the fire.

By the time kids get to 9th grade they have built up nine years of experience with their current employer.  They know the ropes.  They have a pretty good idea where they fit in the educational hierarchy.  Some of them have had water thrown on their fire for years.  Many of them have reached the point where they are putting out their own fire.  So that is our challenge.  We need to start rebuilding that flame.

How do we do that?  It starts by engaging them.  Some schools seem to believe that it is the students job to be engaged.  That is like the producers of a show that no one is watching saying "We made a great show, people should be watching!  It is not our fault they aren't, its theirs!"  It is not their job to be engaged, it is our job to engage them.  We have to find ways to light their fire and get them excited about true learning.  Here's the good my first few observations I have already seen this happening in classrooms throughout  Okoboji High School.  The faculty of our school know that it is part of the job description of a teacher to engage their students.  They do this by approaching each class and each day with enthusiasm.  They do this by giving each student individual attention and monitoring their progress.  They also do this by confronting their students with rigorous and relevant learning opportunities that challenge them to communicate, collaborate, and create.

Make no mistake, every kid has a fire.  Every kid can be engaged.  Some kids spend hours upon hours riding on a skateboard or talking with their friends.  Others will sit motionless for amazing periods of time trying to conquer the next level of their favorite video game.  Our challenge is to keep that going when kids walk through our doors.  To engage them with the types of learning that will prepare them to be successful in whatever life holds for them.  When we stoke the passion and creativity that exists within each student the results can be amazing. 

I will leave you with an example of what can happen when young people are engaged. The young men that created this video are passionate about basketball.  The number of hours spent by this group to create this clip must have been staggering.  Imagine if we could harness this type of energy and fire in a classroom filled with 25 students...that would truly be amazing.

Have a great week!

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