McDonalds, Schools, Learning & Standardization

So as I lay in bed reading and thinking, I can’t help but wonder what it is that the education system is trying to accomplish.  We are constantly hammered with quotes touting the need for students who will become “21st century learners,” “problem-solvers,” and “collaborators” yet we inundate our students with one standardized test after another.  It is a scary dichotomy-on the one hand we want thinkers and on the other hand we will standardize learning to multiple-choice tests (which leads to teaching to the test, which means test prep books, less time for the arts and phys. ed., etc.).  If you want to have great collaboration, I do not think you can have a group of people who all think alike. In reading slow food nation by Carlo Petrini (in conversation with Gigi Padovani) and in one section they were discussion how Ray Kroc brought standardization to food prep.  There is a line that states;

“Taking its impetus from industry rather than the centuries-old tradition of food preparation, standardization also ushered in another tendency in food consumption-that of the “global palate,”…For the first time, taste is becoming standardized on a global level.”

Let’s change the quote to say; “Taking its impetus from industry rather than the centuries-old tradition of inquiry based learning, standardization also ushered in another tendency in education-that of the “global student,”…For the first time, students are becoming standardized on a global level.”  Isn’t that what we have now? Students who have been standardized, all basically learning the same concepts at the same time, whether it is appropriate for them or not.  They already have taken play out of kindergarten and turned it into math and science lab (and not in a good way).  If we want children who will become life-long learners then we need to teach them in a manner that reflects such a philosophy.

In Good Stuff: An Open Letter to Arne Duncan, Herbert Kohl says;

“It is hard for me to understand how educators can claim that they are creating high standards when the substance and content of learning is reduced to the mechanical task of getting a correct answer on a manufactured test. In the panic over teaching students to perform well on reading tests, educators seem to have lost sight of the fact that reading is a tool, an instrument that is used for pleasure and for the acquisition of knowledge and information about the way the world works. The mastery of complex reading skills develops as students grapple with ideas, learn to understand plot and character, and develop and articulate opinions on literature. They also develop through learning history, science, and technology.”

How can we ask kids to “do” summer reading?  They should they already be involved in book clubs, reading for pleasure, reading to learn something new, and not reading as if it is a chore.  If society wants more mathematicians and scientists, I am sure the path is not through a multiple choice test.  I am pretty sure they need to inquiry, test hypothesis, collaborate, read, debate, and the like to reach their potential.

In the end, do we want to see “Yellow Arches” in the middle of the piazza di spagna?