Should We Amend The Idea of Education

I recently saw an article that ran in the Washington Post last October.  Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked by what she learns.  Thanks to Brian MacKenzie for sending it on.

The observation.  “It was so eye-opening that I wish I could go back to every class of students I ever had right now and change a minimum of ten things – the layout, the lesson plan, the checks for understanding. Most of it!”

Her Key Takeaways:

  1. Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.
  2. High school students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90 percent of their classes.
  3. You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long.

The article is insightful and probably useful.  It points at a basic failing in our education system.  It emphasizes teaching rather than learning.  Something akin to teaching as a performance art with a compulsory audience.

The results are obvious.

  • Increasing rates of ADHD.  Possibly induced ADHD would be a better descriptor.
  • Burned out and intellectually dropped out students
  • Students with greatest ability become bored and fall behind.
  • Bright students become the class clown.
  • The most compliant students do acceptably well given the standards.

W. Edwards Deming, the late American expert on quality control, points out that nearly all defects are “designed in.”  If there are problems in education such that an insightful teacher would change almost everything, is it not reasonable to suggest that the system is broken and changes would be welcomed.

There are many examples of alternatives.  The Khan Academy comes to mind immediately.  So does Sugata Mitra and “hole in the wall teaching.”

Our eduction system was designed to meet the needs of an industrial society.  Basic literacy and mathematical skills, teamwork, punctuality, obedience, compliance, and deference to authority figures.  Our modern society has different needs and the alternatives point to how they work.

Refinement of the existing system seems a poor choice.  As Peter Drucker has commented, ”

“There is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.”

Alexis Wiggins seems to be on to something.  Maybe we should all notice.


Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international public accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.

This entry was posted in Education and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s