When I went to school in the 1980’s, almost everything was designed by and orchestrated by my teachers, from what learning activities I was assigned each day to where I sat in class. When the bell rang, I moved from one subject to the next, and waited to be told what to do again.
It was mostly outside of school that I experienced the need to think for myself and make decisions without someone telling me what to do each step of the way. In my part-time job on a local ranch, I had general tasks assigned to me, but a lot of the time I had to figure out what needed to be done on my own. I learned building skills helping my father on projects at home, and then experimented as my friends and I constructed tree forts and a variety of contraptions in the woods behind my house. But during school hours, my friends and I mostly waited to be told what to do.
While this didn’t relegate me to a lifetime of drudgery in some mindless factory job, I had to develop a lot of independent thinking skills during college and on the job later in life. Wouldn’t it be great if our students today were empowered to think for themselves before they complete elementary and high school? George Couros writes:
“I think the best educators have always tried to empower their students. They know that if you are truly good at your job as an educator, the students will learn to not need you eventually.2 That is why “lifelong learning” has been a goal in education forever. If we truly want our students to be “compliant” when they walk out of schools, they will always need someone else’s rules to follow. To develop the “leaders of tomorrow”, we need to develop them as leaders today.Focusing on “empowering” students is seen by some as “fluffy”; students just show up to school to do whatever they want. This is not my belief at all. Empowering students teaches them to have their own voice and follow their own direction, but if they are going to be successful, they will need to truly have the discipline (using the definition, “train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way”), to make it happen. “Empowerment” and “hard work” are not mutually exclusive; in fact, both elements are needed to make a true difference in our world.”
Schools of the past focused on looking for answers – Learning for the future promotes starting with great questions. Schools of the past were about consuming information – Learning for the future is about creating. Schools of the past were highly standardized – Learning for the future is personalized. Schools of the past promoted surface level thinking – Learning for the future is about deep exploration. At APIS, we are striving to provide our students more and more opportunities to go beyond the traditional, spoon-fed education of centuries past, and learn to think for themselves, problem solve, and develop the ability to direct their own learning. We will know we are nearing our goal when our students look to teachers to guide them as they learn and discover, rather than wait for teachers to tell them what to do.