The PBS NOVA “School of the Future” was interesting in that many corporate messages were strung together like an expensive necklace made of plastic beads.
Grit, mindset, brain studies, social-emotional learning…you name it…it was there. Showcased individuals gave shout-outs to others in the program. Sal Kahn yelling out to students that they all have a mindset was one example. The brain study that praised Springboard Collaborative was another.
Eileen Campion, a publicist for NOVA, was kind enough to ask me if I had watched the program and whether my opinion had changed from just viewing the promo. She also reminded me of the link PBS.Org/Nova. I encourage everyone to watch “School of the Future.” I think it does a good job of covering the changing school reforms that affect our public schools. It doesn’t matter if we don’t agree. We should all understand what’s happening.
There were a couple of things about the program that I liked, and much that left me worried. While the program didn’t discuss digital instruction as much as I thought it would, it was in the background. The Alt School and Springboard Collaborative were prominent. And there were other hints.
At the end, children were asked what they thought the school of the future would be like. One said there would be no more teachers. Another said it would be all computers. Children always know more than they are given credit.
Here are some of my observations for what they’re worth.
First. I appreciated that Linda Darling-Hammond and others distinguished that many of our public schools in wealthier areas do well on international tests. So often a general statement is made that our public schools are failing, and it is important to realize, quite sadly, that we have many more students who live in poverty than other countries.
That our public schools and teachers are being called upon to fix these societal conditions, also being blamed for them, is worth noting.
Second. The Springboard Collaborative, a nonprofit, claims to be successful at both print and digital instruction. Teachers, students and parents or “facilitators” wore green t-shirts advertising Springboard. I cringe at such marketing in schools. Publishing companies have always sold teachers their materials—that’s nothing new—but they were never this bold about it.
I wonder if the program was selected by the school board, or if the school board was influenced by outsiders to choose Springboard.
The kindergartner and his father showed up. For some unclear reason the child’s teacher, influenced by Springboard, felt the student needed to work harder at his reading. So the dad was asking him close-reading-like questions. But the child read well for a kindergartner. It worries me to see children pushed to read formally so young.
Third. Along with this, as I said before, I am not always against brain research. But how much should little children focus? It is easy to get edgy watching such experiments. We know there is such an unreasonable push for young children to learn at a much earlier age than is developmentally appropriate. I don’t think I could have sat as long as the child with all the story distractions!
I also took issue with the sleep research. We have known about the adolescent/sleep association for years. Yet, instead of changing the environment to address teen needs (too inconvenient we’re told) the idea in “School of the Future” appears to be to change the teens themselves.
In this strange new world, what if teens adapt to a new circadian rhythm but their hormones get changed too? What if we alter teen behavior and make it more difficult? I say leave Mom Nature alone!
Fourth One clue that we are going digital, I think, was found in the middle school. The teacher, who also seemed to be doing Common Core, emphasized constantly quizzing students. Short quizzes that are ongoing are like digital questions after facts are presented. Memorizing was emphasized too much.
Also, a lot was made about middle school students forgetting. I taught middle school students for many years, and I was often surprised at what they would remember! Often a student would remind me of something I said months earlier. Perhaps their long-term memory works better.
Fifth. My favorite part of the program was the class in the Bronx. The teachers kept talking about making their students feel good about themselves. I guess what I liked most was no one talked about no excuses. I hope that’s gone for good! The teachers seemed warm and friendly. The class size, however, looked too big. And the children looked tired.
Sixth. When Angela Duckworth entered the school, and Carol Dweck appeared signing her book, of course, you knew what was coming. “Grit” and “mindset” have some truth behind them, but are also way overplayed. They are controversial too. Outside of the program, Nicholas Tampio recently wrote about grit. His analysis is stunning.
I think there is some danger in keeping a child on the same path for too long, especially if they are truly frustrated or uninterested.
When I hear this push for students to always stick with a project, part of Kenny Roger’s song The Gambler always pops into my head.
You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em
Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run…
Seventh I have learned to dislike any kind of school that has children focus on one subject as a priority. I used to like magnet schools. I think they could bring children together. But students need exposure to a variety of skills and courses when they are in school.
It was impressive that the students from Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy understood so much about engineering. I just wonder if they missed out on something they will never know they liked.
A sad part of the program was the high pressured high school. This school is not unique. Suicides are found in university settings too. But “School of the Future” seems to fight between the push to have children learning more, and the pressure they face later. You have to draw the connection. Pushing children to learn faster leads to hyper learning later, and the casualties as we see in the program, can be horrendous.
I still think too, that there are many things that could be done to reduce stress in a student’s schooling.
- Get rid of retention.
- Provide school nurses and wraparound services.
- Give parents support groups.
- Add more school counselors.
- Professionalize teachers.
- Quit closing public schools.
- Shore up public schools.
- Create safe, cheerful clean school facilities.
- Drop high-stakes testing.
- Reduce class sizes.
- Really personalize learning (not digital).
- Bring back the arts.
- Make reading a joyful experience.
- Ensure all students have recess (some states are doing this).
- Better address dyslexia and learning disabilities in children.
There was much more about this program I have not discussed. Feel free to comment on your likes and dislikes.
Next week, NOVA will be “Doubts About Neuroeducation.” That sounds interesting. I will be watching. That’s all I am going to say about it for now….
I will be on the Rick Smith show, 5:30 ET, Monday Sept. 19 to discuss the program.