As we finish off the summer and get ready for reopening the schools, it's amazing how we have not taken this revolutionary moment in society to reimagine education. I understand that many people have always really loved the way that schools have functioned; sometimes because they really enjoyed being in school and that's why they wanted to become a teacher or maybe it's just because they're accustomed to the way that they were taught and if it was good enough for me, it's good enough for my kids. But the thing that those people are constantly forgetting about is that the world has changed. It always does although typically not this rapidly. We shouldn’t be teaching kids to live in the world that we grew up in, we should be preparing them for the world of the future.
There's a saying that the only constant in life is change. That’s especially true in 2020 since the global pandemic has brought to light drastic inequities that have been either largely unnoticed or not spoken about until the world locked down. There's nothing more consistent in life than the fact it is always changing, however, although we can understand that concept, we are often still attached to another time whether it's because we enjoyed our life during that time or because we have a level of comfort with it. But true growth happens through discomfort.
I am constantly looking for silver linings of difficult situations and now is no different. We can focus on the difficulties in social distancing and wearing masks or we can focus on how this time is given to us to reevaluate our prerogatives and our priorities.
I love being a teacher and I respect my students enough to continue to learn and to continue to challenge my own thought processes, but I’m concerned that too many people in charge are not willing to do the same. I don't know if it's because they don't want to be told that they were wrong, which at the time it may not have been, or because they cannot imagine another way of school to be so they don't want to take the chance. But I think that our children are worth that chance.
Although I’m not an expert in public policy, I'm an educator as well as a cognitive neuroscientist. As a neuroscientist. I focus on how our brain is capable of learning. Our brains are not the same as they were 20-30 years ago. Our brains don't absorb information in the same way. Most of that's because of our consistent exposure to multimedia and the constant onslaught of information from our news feeds. So that's given us a society based on instant gratification.
If you're not willing to compete with all of the moving pictures pervading our students’ attention, they may not see you. Ignoring these facts is just going to create a situation where students don't learn and the teacher becomes frustrated because they feel that it’s a problem with the students since all students ‘should’ be learning in the manner in which they were taught. But if we actually look at the students, if we actually listen to them, and we teach them the way that they're learning information every day anyway, they'll be more likely to understand and actually take ownership of their cognitive processes. We need them to take that ownership. We need them to have that autonomy because without that innovation will die and critical thinking, which is so necessary to swim in the sea of misinformation they’re exposed to daily through social media, will go flat. We're not going to foster the critical thinking that students need to develop their autonomy and to become functioning and well balanced citizens with worksheets and lectures.
Now that we're being forced to live a bit more virtually, we can learn how to adapt to this ‘new’ digital world and become more a part of the world that our students live in. However resistance to change is common and human. Typically, Superintendent Conference Days are filled with an exciting energy in the air but this year, it was more like dread. As much as I'd like to say that I still had my jump in my step and the excitement that I had in previous years, honestly, that's just not true. That’s partially because of the Zoom video conferences which have replaced meetings and collegial circles, but mostly because instead of spending the six months from when schools closed for the quarantine until reopening to truly really evaluate how education is done in this country and globally, we have spent countless hours to just try to get back to a past level of normal and a comfort with how we've always done things. But, just because we've always done things a certain way doesn't mean it's the right way or that it's the best way to teach now. If we keep on teaching our students the way that we learned we are doing them a disservice. Yes, we could have really loved the way that we learned and the way that school was when we went but that was for the world that we grew up in, the past. If we keep on teaching students the way we were taught, then we are preparing them for a world that's becoming obsolete as they graduate as opposed to teaching them how to think problem-solve and innovate for a future that we haven't even considered.
Do I think that we should have students learning using their computers and smartphones at home forever? No. But I also don't think that viewing ourselves as content resources as opposed to facilitators of learning makes sense when information is a click away.
And I think that because the world has changed, as it always does, if we guide them to function in the world of today as well as to change the world of tomorrow, they’'ll be less likely to make the same mistakes.