Friday, October 5, 2007

The Students Have Spoken

Diane Cordell and I have been conducting some impromptu research via our own interest in the role of schools in the lives of children and the communities in which they exist. The original post was spurred on by Barry Bachenheimer's question to me:

Is the purpose of school to get students ready for the world of work? I argue, no. I think the purpose of school is the encourage students to do, read, see, and learn things that they wouldn't do if left to their own adolescent devices. For example, if left to me, I never would have read half the "classic" novels I read in high school, watched classic films, read the NY Times, or gone to certain museums. Now as an adult, I am glad that I was pushed to do those things. It has made me a more rounded person.
but it came to be much more because Diane and I pushed it out to our students (well, I borrowed some). Diane's student's responses can be found here and are well worth a look. They drive at the need for school to be a safe place that has clear expectations.

Our students were a little more specific, and that may have a lot to do with how I framed the question. But needless to say, here is how the students I asked the question of responded on the class wiki:

In my honest opinion, I believe that schools are doing the best they can right now, they are teaching life skills and how to react with people, while giving them an education. I think that I learn best in a clean environment.
I think that school should provide a base education for students to give them as many opportunities in the future as possible. The standard for base education should be high though, don't get me wrong. Schools should prepare us for life by supplying us with knowledge, obviously, and other skills needed to survive in the world, like social skills, common sense, knowing right from wrong, and other things. It isn't the school's problem if the students don't use the skills taught to them once out of school, but the schools need to provide these things so that the students have the greatest possibility of success. The school enviroment should be clean, friendly, and practical. The environment isn't all that important because all students learn differently in different atmospheres.
I also believe that schools are doing as best as they can, but I live in a middle-upperclass town so I do not know if the same can be said for towns and cities with a lower school budget. Although, I feel that schools should be clean and well-equiped with modern technology.
In general, schools should be geared to meet the needs of the majority of students. For our school, that probably means preparation for college or other higher learning. I myself am fortunate enough to have a voice inside my head (not literally) who helps to ensure that I take the proper steps in order to reach my college education, but many I people I know lack such a "voice". Because of this, I feel, rather strongly, that high schools need to be more goal-oriented toward the futures of their respective students, and they should be better acquainted with the college admissions process.
You asked, and I will answer. I'm going to say the honest truth. I have become jaded for school. I do not believe it will influence ANYTHING in my future career course, unless there's a Video game Design and Development class in this school. What I want is a teacher who can connect to the student, who can teach with all the modern technology (props to Davis and Scott on the wikis), and a teacher who can be forgiving in a time of a mistake. Life is not meant to be a non-stop 79mph crash course through a never ending flow of work. Teachers seem to forget that as students, we have opinions on our work. As a Game Designer, how will I ever need to use Proofs of Geometry? That makes the class boring, and therefore listening and learning become RIDICULOUSLY more difficult. In my life, weekends = essays, projects, outlines, etc. When I come to school, I want a teacher who realizes that we have lives outside of school that need tending to. I am of the belief that all things in moderation leads to a successful life.

Also, this may just be me talking, but I prefer a more Socratic method of teaching. As in, talking and discussing, and where everyone's opinion is key to the lesson. We still use the archaic, slow, mind-tramping process of learning through reading the text. I feel true knowledge can not be plainly read, it must be taken in of one's own accord, processed, understood, and released to others. If we read what we are forced to, we simply scan the information and speak or write it when someone puts a quarter in the slot, and just like machines, we don't benefit.

I think that schools should both prepare students for the workforce later on in life and give them a standard education. However, if you want to be a fashion designer, I don't think that whether or not you took physics should matter. There should be certain requirements, but they should be catered to certain career paths. This is because so many people, when they are done with high school, are not prepared for the workforce, not even the work they are passionate about. School and its work takes up so much time, that many people can't uphold or maintain jobs, thus acquiring a poor work ethic. If you constantly have to quit jobs left and right, it will not only make you look less dependable in a job interview, but then for the rest of your life, when the going gets tough either in work, or outside of it, you will always find some reason to quit or to stop showing up. Schools should try to incorporate classes that prepare students for the workforce and that can help them develop a good work ethic.

I think we should be allowed to use cell phones and IPODS in school. If it is going to be shoved in our faces left and right, how could you ignore it? By integrating websites such as this one into our education, we are not only saving trees, but benefiting from one anothers ideas. This website allows kids who are shy or quiet or even mute to share their opinions. But that's just my opinion...

Regardless of teen angst or the current reconstruction project going on at our high school, these comments speak to the idea of relevance, and that more than anything else we need to be teaching content that matters, that moves, that equips our students for a lifetime of change, and fluid, seemingly disparate careers that blend into one another. Our students are really ready for us to change.

Image credit:
"Student Protestors"
Dave Bullock / eecue


Dave Bullock said...

Please credit me as follows:

Dave Bullock / eecue

and link that to



Patrick Higgins said...


Absolutely. I noticed from your blog that Flickr did something similar to you. Is this a bigger problem than I know about?

Dave Bullock said...

It's not a problem when people are quick to update the credit as you did. Thanks!

Dan Meyer said...

What are the demographics here, Patrick?

Separate point:

I find the line between what students find irrelevant and what actually is irrelevant to be a bit dim.

I wonder if you'd agree or if we're at a place now where what students are interested in defines what they should be learning, intellectual might making intellectual right, as it were.

I'm asking as one who has taught geometric proofs and weathered accusations of irrelevance. Taught best, where throughout the year you ask students to justify justify justify their every assertion, it pounds every ounce of fat out of your brain.

I don't think everything I teach is of the utmost relevance to my kids' futures, but that one kid's quote is nearsighted and makes me wonder: how much autonomy should students have in their own education?

Patrick Higgins said...


Glad you pointed these things out. First off, our demographics break down like this: New Jersey rates its schools socioeconomically by something called a District Factor Group where the ratings are A-J with A being the lowest and J being the highest in terms of their criteria. We are an "I" district, meaning that we are predominantly middle to upper middle class suburban.

When we speak of empowering student learning, it is a tricky thing. You say that "intellectual might makes intellectual right," and I can see where that might fit certain situations where students are intrinsically motivated to learn. Being a classroom teacher, I am sure you understand that not to be the case across the board.

A colleague of mine looked at the original comments on the wiki and pointed out the same thing you did about the student who brought up geometric proofs. Are students too caught up in the creation of self to be able to objectively select materials they will need for future endeavors? Or is this a case where "just in time" learning would serve the student well later in life, so that if he or she did not choose to learn geometric proofs, they could at least have the ability to teach it to themselves. David Warlick had posted last month regarding that skill: the ability to teach ourselves. There might be something to that above all else.

As far as my thinking, there has to be some room for free-range learning, but there are certain aspects of learning that should be formatted for students.

And, in actuality, aren't video game designers constantly using if/then, and other types of statements as the basis for a lot of their programming decisions?

Dan Meyer said...

Your last paragraph struck me sometime this afternoon ("... wait a second ... what do they think programming's built on ... ") and kinda speaks to my reservations.

I think it relates significantly to how we feed kids. We don't let kids have total autonomy over their diet. They'd eat crap.

But we don't want to mandate their entire menu. We want them to explore their own interests not just ours.

The crossover continues from Warlick's point. We want kids to learn how to feed themselves well, how to eat healthily, how to develop their own palettes, much like we want kids to learn how to learn.

Gonna go put a frozen pizza on the rack now.

Carolyn Foote said...


We just held student panels on our cammpus and interestingly they had some similar comments.

(even down to a student suggesting that teachers use the Socratic method instead of lecturing!)

Our students felt like our school was geared too much towards academics, to the exclusion of "real life" sometimes--meaning the life of work, but also just real life skills. We prepare our students for college more than for anything else, so that was an interesting observation on their part.

Relevancy of the information was another thread they mentioned--they didn't feel the information was irrelevant, but they wanted to be able to see the ties more clearly and one student commented he's more motivated when in charge of his own learning.

If you'd like to read more of their comments, I blogged about it and we have notes from their commentary on Google Docs.