Why School? – Part 1

Early in his book Why School?, author Will Richardson explains how abundance is changing our world:

In a nutshell, here’s what happened during the last 15 years with regard to information, knowledge, teachers, learning, and getting and education. Thanks to the Internet and the technologies we use to access it, we’ve moved from a world where all of these were relatively scarce to one where they’re absolutely abundant. More than two billion people are connected online, reaching five billion by 2020. There are more than 600,000 iPhone apps. A trillion webpages. Eight years’ worth of YouTube video uploads every day. Four million Wikipedia articles, in English alone. And so on.

He then cites the many ways that this abundance has sparked significant changes in every field but K-12 schooling. The news industry has had to “re-think a few things” in light of 24-hour free online access to their content and amateur reporting. The business world has reinvented itself to take advantage of online tools for building relationships with customers. Government, healthcare, music, and shopping have all felt the disruptive force of abundance, according to Richardson.

What does he suggest we do to catch up? I’m not there yet, but I’m pretty sure the opening anecdote of the book gives us some clues about where he’s going.

Richardson recounts the story of his son, Tucker, learning to play Minecraft on a rainy day in February. At the beginning of the day, Richardson asks his son, “So, what do you know about Minecraft, Tuck?” And his son responds, “Nothing, really.” But after a day of video chats, YouTube tutorials, reading gamers’ blogs, and trial and error, Tucker has all but mastered the game. With absolutely no help from adults or traditional “teaching.” Richardson writes:

More and more, Tucker and his connected friends are crafting a new narrative around learning. (Millions of connected adults are its co-authors.) It’s a story that challenges the fundamental premise of this thing we call “school.” In this new story, real learning happens anytime, anywhere, with anyone we like — not just with a teacher and some same-age peers, in a classroom, from September to June. More important, it happens around the things we learners choose to learn, not what someone else tells us to learn.

Some questions I’ve got so far:

  • What are the pros and cons of individualized learning? How should we balance individual students pursuing their own passions with our desire to expose students to wide range of ideas that we think are important (aka the curriculum)?
  • How do we help students connect to experts and other learners beyond our classroom walls? What do we stop doing to make time for this new aspect of our work?
  • What new literacies do we need to help students develop and how can we best do this? I’m suspecting it won’t involve many print materials at all…

Reading along? Interested? Post your questions or comments below. 

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Categories: Book Club

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