Education is all about empower other people and supporting people to change their behavior. Getting kids to pay attention in class, getting teens to understand they need to look at their future and getting students to share their talents to move the world. At the center of all this persuasion is selling: educators are sellers of ideas.
Our educational system ruled out empowerment. Instead of teaching us to create, it’s taught us to copy, memorize, obey and keep score. Pretty much the same qualities we look for in machines.
The work of Daniel Pink and Marty Neumeier is inspiring to me. Guided by findings in educational research and neuroscience, the emphasis on cognitive skills like calculation and memorization is evolving to meta skills and non-cognitive skills like collaboration and improvisation. The tools and skills we have developed for the last era are inadequate to address the challenges of the next era. We find ourselves caught in the middle between to incompatible paradigms: the old industrial platform is collapsing, but we can’t quite make out the new platform.
Educators can take a lesson from the commercial world: namely, teaching the complicated skill of finding problems. Problem identification is, the ability to dig out issues and challenges that aren’t necessarily obvious. And this is where students could benefit from educators — learning the process of identifying a problem. The focus has moved from problem solving to problem finding as a skill, Pink describes. Problem solving is an analytical, deductive kind of skill. Problem finding comes out of research on artists. It’s more of a conceptual kind of skill. We want a new type of industry that encourage the growth of talent. We want jobs that demand our best ideas, that respect our unique skills, that engage our minds as well as our muscles.
carrots and sticks
The standardized model of education is in deep need of an upgrade. We have a lot of learned behavior of compliance, and hunger for external rewards and no real engagement. We have this belief that people perform better if we hit them with this endless arsenal of carrots and sticks: If-then motivators. To get to that engagement, people have to unlearn these deeply rooted habits.
It’s time to ask students questions about their interests. Teachers than use the information to build challenging tasks around those particular interests. Another way of personalizing learning are DIY report cards. It emphasis the idea of: ‘this is what I want to learn; this is what I want to accomplish; this is what I want to get better at’. When students assess themselves, they hold themselves to a higher standard.
It’s all about making progress in meaningful work. And because we are still trying to apply Industrial Age ideas to Robotic Age realities it is so difficult. What the world needs are people who think for themselves, use their imagination, communicate well and can work in teams, and who can adapt to continuous change. The operating principle today is: ‘none of us are as smart as all of us’, says Neumeier. Yet to activate the creativity of a group we will need to bring our best selves to the party. This can change the way you look at students.