Childhood education is a major concern for most Americans including myself these days. After reading an excellent article about Dr. Chris Bjork, I thought that I would share a few thoughts of his and mine.
Dt. Bjork is a Professor of Education at Vassar College with extensive research in the area of education reform. He is completing a book on the Japanese experience with scholastics and testing.
A key thought of his that I found intriguing is, "We need to reexamine the idea that the key to making schools better is to create more pressure on students and teachers."
Currently, the US ranks 20th in reading, 22nd in science and 29th in math in the developed world. That is scary. We have the most money and resources yet lag everywhere!
The Japanese experience exists of two educational poles. Up to 7th grade the students have no testing. It is all about teaching and learning and the excitement of gaining knowledge. Then it shifts on a dime. Teachers begin to teach to the test and regurgitate mountains of facts. Students become stressed out and lose the ability to think critically in a futile effort to score on the EXAM.
On a similar note, I was listening to a podcast on CEO complaints of modern workers and was struck by the same theme of the inability to critically think. My own medical training at Emory University was a study in memorization and not in how to think through a problem so much. Residency at the University of Virginia was vastly different with a few great mentors like Owen Hendley, Steve Borowitz and Frank Saulsbury challenging us to think beyond the conventional wisdom. I count myself fortunate for these few great men that set a higher bar for me.
Where does this all go? I think that the fundamental key to learning is to love the process and the outcome. I remember the three years of elementary school from 4-6 grades where I was able to go to a special class that was all about thinking outside of the box. The 20 students lucky enough to be in this class enjoyed a rich learning experience with an ultra motivated teacher.
Translate this to the elementary school level and on. The likely choice is to challenge the kids to THINK and not memorize. In an age of unlimited access to information on your phone, why do you need to memorize anything! We would completely abandon the regurgitated learning environment for one that shuns memorizing in favor of learning the process and the outcome.
Bjork's prescription for success is to hire the brightest minds to excel at their craft and shun the memorized test scores.
I can tell you from personal experience that some of the brightest test score individuals that I knew in medical school were the most dysfunctional thinking physicians that I worked with. The bottom line is that a score does not dictate future critical thought processes or ability to create.
What do we need?
1) We need to teach children how to read and research.
2) We need to teach children math skills.
3) We need to teach children the scientific process.
4) We need to encourage the youngest to be great and thinkers and not memorizers.
5) We need to recognize that some children will self select to follow a passion and we should support it. It may be art, craft or something else. If they love it, they may be the best at it. Amen.