I received a missif from my son, the high school principal, today. I will edit the personal stuff. Here is the most interesting:
Leading a group of people through the pandemic experience (following rules, bending where we can, holding fast where we have too, and knowing that we are not doing our best work) has been tough. I also see it as an amazing opportunity for us to reshape a 150 year old institution. I use the joke that my grandmother could walk into most high schools (including mine) and except for taking attendance (which is done electronically) she could start teaching and be fine. While I do not ever want to throw the good out (Socratic seminars, case studies, etc.), it is crazy to me that how we teach has not fundamentally changed in the past 70 years. This situation has provided us to look at everything we do because we do not have a choice and that good enough is no longer good enough.
I wonder…Just what are we trying to teach. By the time we are out of elementary school we should know how to read, write and cypher. Now what? We have two years of junior high, four years of high school, four years of college, what are we supposed to learn there? History, Advanced Math, Physics, Languages, creative writing, business management, Art, music?
Are we attempting to find better ways to jam facts and knowledge into young brains? I’m sure that’s possible. Tiger moms and helicopter parents certainly succeed at doing so. The academic success of Asian children reflect the results of years of hard work, study, and memorization. It certainly can be done. But should it be?
How, Andy, do we teach our young how to think and to question?
Many of the greats in our history never graduated from, or in some cases even attended high school or college. Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, my father…Just to name a few. Although your grandfather’s formal education stopped at the eleventh grade, he was one of the most educated, smartest, and wise people I have ever known. How can that be? He was inquisitive. He asked questions. He was a voracious reader. He excelled in whatever he did. His moral compass was spot on.
Your institution is unique. It has almost unlimited funding. Virtually all the students come from wealthy homes. They are without a doubt privileged. Virtually every single one goes on to higher education in the most elite colleges and universities. But are they smarter, better educated, or have they led more positive lives than Lincoln, Gates, Jobs, or your grandfather?
Perhaps you need to ask yourself for what are we preparing our young? Are we filling them with facts, as perceived by teachers? Or are we teaching them how to question and come up with their own answers? In today’s world, facts are easy to find, but are we exposing them to various concepts, and then letting them attack them, or are we simply telling them what to believe? Based on the baloney we see on social media, I would say that so far our grade is a “D” at best.
You have the hardest of jobs. Good Luck
PS You Grandmother would take about 30 seconds to master electronic attendance taking…