A former colleague of mine had a giant poster above her blackboard with a single wordin white and all caps, set against a black background: THINK! It hung there imperiouslybut silently, exhorting her students to engage in that most difficult but essential of tasksat the core of a quality education.Though thinking would seem to be a given in the classroom, much of what is passed offin today’s high-stakes testing world of education doesn’t actually require students toengage in it; rather, education consistently and misguidedly privileges regurgitatingfactoids under the guise of accountability.The saddest thing about the current state of affairs in education is that we don’t evenneed a radical rethinking of our national educational philosophy. What we need is thewill and foresight to make the tough changes that prioritizes our children and theirfuture.As as a former teacher in an independent school, I was fortunate enough to teachclasses ranging from 10-15 students. With so few students, I could teach from astudent-centered pedagogy, conducting class as a seminar and casting myself as aco-collaborator in my students’ education instead of standing at the board in front of arow of desks. They, not I, were the primary drivers of their own learning; I was there tostructure and gently guide the discussion.Imagine if we committed ourselves to providing the means for students to learn in moremanageable groups and gave students more ownership over the trajectory and pace oftheir own learning.
Wouldn’t that more align with the dynamics that most of them wouldsee in their professional lives?Even with my small classes, my colleague’s THINK sign stood out to me most on thedays that I set aside time for my students to work on their essays.Leading up to these days, they had read nightly assignments, completed daily readingchecks, and engaged in student-centered class discussions where I interjected primarilyto hector them into returning to the text for evidence to support their assertions. I spentmost of my time observing the ways in which each student interacted with each otherand propelled (or hindered) the group’s understanding of the text so that I could givethem appropriate feedback. This was their time to THINK.But when the time came for them to write, they were paralyzed by the silence of theroom and their blinking cursors.
It was at this moment that I understood the way inwhich they had been cheated by the results based, educational model.For a majority of them, the essay boiled down to a grade–they thought that it was moreimportant to tell me what they thought I wanted to hear rather than to conceive ofthemselves as being in active conversation with a problem–the text and myprompt–without a single, simple answer; they wanted to be able to regurgitate safelybits and pieces of previous discussions that I might have endorsed in word or gestureduring discussion in order to receive the payoff of a favorable letter grade rather than toturn the assignment into a response unique only to them.For me, however, the essay was a personal conversation and a reiteration of a set ofskills called the writing process. Students should interact with the text by thinking aboutthe ways in which the prompts allowed them to explore ideas that interested themduring our discussions or perhaps hadn’t been addressed to their satisfaction. In orderto think, they needed to engage with the words on the page–what is the protagonistsaying about his or her motivations; what are the forces at work in the plot; where arethere connections to be made; how does this text speak to me in the world in which Ilive?–before they even began to think about a thesis statement.Isn’t this thinking? Aren’t these the skills we want them to bring to bear on the problemsthat they will face in their professional lives?Don’t companies want their workers to offer solutions to real world problems instead ofoffering neatly and aesthetically pleasing reworkings of what has already been done?Our current educational model has produced a generation of students afraid of failureand crippled by the anxiety of honest, critical feedback.
This isn’t the workforcenecessary to maintain the United States’ position as a world leader.However, until we commit ourselves to making the changes necessary to produce thisworkforce, all the giant THINK signs in the world won’t change our current trajectory.