A century and a half ago a Western education was not considered complete without a trip to the capitals of Europe. Now, if a parent in the UK takes their children out of school to visit a European capital they face a stiff fine for breaking the law. How did this happen?
An education today consists of stuff and a few skills. The core of learning has become a game of memorization and regurgitation. And, as I wrote a few weeks ago, we have designed the system that doesn’t even help us really remember things. All we get in school, at every level, is stuff to memorize.
In addition, most of the stuff is based on a curriculum designed over a hundred years ago. This curriculum is updated only every few years and because of the delay that stretches from the writing, through the publishing and distribution, to the updated lesson plans, the information is years old before it hits the desks. To make matters worse, educrats who select the learning materials make their selection based on strong political biases. It is appalling that there have to be laws that state that evolution must be taught in school. Just like global climate change, science that doesn’t agree with current political rhetoric is ignored or skimmed over.
I tutor a number of students ranging in age from seven to eighteen. I am shocked and amazed at what they are not taught. A seventeen year old who had studies about Indigenous Peoples in Canada the year before had no knowledge whatsoever about the residential schools that are a shame of our country. A fourteen-year-old studying weather had learned nothing in school about global climate change and just knew it was a complete scam because of what he had been told at home.
School has become a political tool that enforces conformity and authoritarianism. Not only do we not question the information, but the information is controlled to reinforce a communities political narrative.
I have always loved history and as an undergraduate I worked part-time for a while in a classroom working with a fourteen year old with severe behavioural challenges. I read something in the official curriculum that was just plain wrong. There was no political threat (I don’t think) as it has something to do with the Renaissance. I went to talk to the teacher about it and pointed out the error. I was, literally, blasted by the teacher for questioning the official narrative. The information that she was given was beyond question, even for her. And her job was to pass that information on to the children and then test and test and test them to make sure that they had that material memorized – even though we know that little of what she was teaching would ever survive the year.
With the brilliant technological revolution that has taken place over the past 25 years, we have found it even easier to transmit information to students. If you look at almost all of the adopted educational technologies, they are about transmitting information. This was supposed to free up the teacher so that they could engage the students with other activities, but all it has meant is that the teachers now have more time to transmit information.
Higher education has become nothing more than an information transmission institution, with a few skills thrown in – not ever taught, but expected. Flipped classrooms and a whole variety of other methods have been devised to achieve the same purpose – transmit information and ensure that the students get the right answers.
How did this happen? Why did we decide to stop developing human beings and simply focus on memorizing and right answers? When did learning become nothing more than a right answer?
Jesse is a world leader in the integration of the science of learning into formal teaching settings. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge and Director at The Academy for the Scholarship of Learning. Huge advocate of the science of learning, he provides people with ideas about how they can use it in their classrooms. Jesse holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wales, Bangor.