We have been discussing the purpose of school again at, well, school. We should be moving past the view of school from the industrial age where we assume we are training people to follow instructions on a job. So, what is school for? One view is that it is to prepare students for life, in all its messy glory.
Yes, you students will need to support yourself but we don't know whether you will become an artist, entrepreneur employee, etc., but we need to prepare you to adapt to change. But if we "prepare you for life" in the current practice in most schools we will give you "life" assignments, then grade them so you can know if you are good at "life". Naturally, we will ignore the fact that you do "life" every hour of every day. And therein lies the rub. Grades are perverse as they become the ultimate, yet inaccurate, reification of a student's knowledge. All of school is summed up by that little sheet of paper with nothing by the course name and the grade.
That came to mind as I was stumbled on an old email exchange while trying to find another. A couple of years ago in a far different school, one of our teachers knew an expert, X, in his subject who also knew about technology. In the process, the teacher had X meet a couple of board members, Y and Z. Just to be clear, X is also a collabucator, so keep that in mind as you read the following.
As the teacher wrote me:
He spoke to Y and Z. They both seemed very interested, and Z asked a lot of questions. One of X's messages was that you have to model professional practice. What are they doing in the professional chemistry labs, bio labs, art studios, graphic design firms, etc. These are the people who are going to hire your kids. Colleges are looking to fill those spots, so THEY are modeling professional practice, so we should model after what the colleges are doing.
One thing X started is just to get people to SHARE what they are doing in the classroom technology-wise. He has a group that meets monthly, I think. They just meet and talk about what they are implementing in their classrooms.
I'm sure Y and Z liked that--but I don't think they understood the implications. What professional places don't do is have somebody create a limited assignment, then assign a grade to the completion, then convert those to report cards and GPAs. They don't give out assignments where the answer is already known just so their employees can "practice" and look up the answer if the work doesn't pay off. They don't have an expert who comes in and passes judgment on each and every project so that it's not blessed until the expert says it's blessed. And most of our teachers would not have a clue as to how to get students to do what they are routinely expected to do in industry: identify problems, formulate possible solutions, then use technical expertise to convince people to back their solution.
Everything the parents are tied up in--the GPA that is used for sorting students--does not exist in professional practice in such a form. The assessments and methods for verification and validation used in industry are rooted in a much different set of circumstances in most places; there are a few sweatshops out there, though. Sure, they'll argue that it is similar in in terms like "you get fired if you don't perform" and "nobody will buy your product if you don't perform". But getting fired is far different from getting a C. And going broke is far different from getting a C. Furthermore, our A students would not necessarily survive in that environment.
But I sure would love to be there when the dichotomy between what Y and Z think school is and what X is talking about finally hits them!
'Nuff said for now.