How Education Isn’t Preparing Students For The 21st Century.

A month ago, I was invited to write a blog post for One World Youth Project, an organization based in Washington D.C. linking schools around the world to build generations of discerning, empathetic, and empowered global citizens. Sadly, OWYP suffered budget cuts resulting in the loss of much of the staff and my blog was not published. Many people contributed to it and I would like to share it here.

School

I’m  honored to be serving as guest blogger for One World Youth Project. The topic I’m writing about is controversial and remains at the forefront of the educational debate. Let me just state right now that I like to keep it real. There’s no point in beating around the bush when it comes to important topics such as education. So here we go…

How Education Isn’t Preparing Students For The 21st Century.

As an educator with fifteen years experience, I can’t even begin to write the myriad of ways our current education system is failing our youth, but in an effort to keep it short, I decided to take a poll among my colleagues and evaluate the consensus.

Here’s what they said.

“Test prep is short term retention of facts. Regurgitation of facts can’t solve problems. Problem solving requires creating new pathways to move forward.” Brian Harris, Musician – Portland, OR.

With an emphasis on higher test scores and No Child Left Behind, we’ve ironically left so many children behind with their inability to do one thing…think critically. Much of our youth is unable to think outside the box or as my colleague stated above, “create new pathways to move forward.” This is a huge challenge in today’s younger generation. We see it in the classroom, in the job industry, and in everyday life. They struggle to apply skills in new ways, imagine possbilities, or take risks. Their social and academic growth is stunted.

“Students don’t know how to collaborate or live and thrive as a community.” Nathan Olsen, Musician/Writing Specialist at Heritage School – Salem, OR.

Tests are centered on individual performance and so are many school projects. They focus on the me, myself, and I — leaving kids to fend for themselves. It’s no wonder we don’t know how to live and thrive as community. We can’t think like one. I’m all about independent thinking and empowering our children to be strong individuals, but somewhere along the line we’ve created a chasm within our community. This is one of the reasons cross-cultural dialogue is crucial because developing nations understand the concept of community. Whether out of oppression, necessity, or the simple fact that we’re all in this together, they’ve figured it out.

“There is no love of learning.” Lynn DeMarco, Program Coordinator at Low Income Housing – Seattle, WA

A point so true, yet sad because the kids who have no desire to learn likely did at one point, but once the system decided they weren’t learning fast enough or getting the adequate test scores, it killed off any ounce of desire left. I can’t tell you how many students cross my path every year believing they’re stupid thinking they’re done with learning. Seriously, they resign themselves to the belief that they’ll never be as smart as their peers. To them it’s embarrassing enough being alienated in some remedial learning class, so why try?

Learning becomes a competition rather than a yearning.

This is where creativity in the public schools plays an important role. You see, if creativity wasn’t being stifled to the point of extinction, a child might learn to “create” and foster habits of mind that embrace individual strengths and encourage collaborative learning. The fact is, there will always be someone smarter than you. Every single person develops at a different rate and with different gifts, talents, and skill sets. This isn’t a thing of good, bad, or better — we’re meant to be different and we should celebrate that. Furthermore, fostering creativity fosters a love of learning.

“Lack of courageous conversations about racism and white privilege.” Carla Moreno, Educator/Social Media Consultant/Vocal Coach – Salem, OR

Let’s face it, racism still exists. In my opinion we’ve mastered the art of political correctness at best — and that isn’t a good thing either. Where are the conversations about white privilege and institutional racism? Take a look at the disparity in educational and financial resources for people of color and lower income. Consider the conditions of many of our public schools. How about district rules that require kids to travel halfway across the city to attend school because they didn’t make the list to their neighborhood school. I once had a student who took a bus, train, and taxi to attend school. At the end of the day, he spent about 2.5 hours traveling time. By the time he made it to my afternoon music class, he was stressed, angry, and done.

The list goes on and on, these concerns and others aren’t new in the education community. While blogging forums, articles, education journals, and professional development workshops bring these concerns to light, it’s not enough. It’s so important to realize how all this affects our students, teachers, administrators, community, and society as a whole. In all honesty, we can’t throw the blame solely on the education system, it’s our responsibility as global citizens to prepare the next generation for the 21st century.