Academics – The oxygen of knowledge

Academics – the much needed almost like oxygen for the body to survive, to the point that it has almost become indispensible.

Most of our current education system revolves around it, and yet, it fails miserably short of what our kids need. In fact it almost feels that our academic system of education is highly overrated, at best. At worst, it destroys a number of our kids.

Don’t jump to conclusion but hear me out. I’m not denying the fact that our kids need to learn to read, or do math, or develop other valuable skills. But too often, the focus of our kids’ school day is Content with a capital C, with little connection to why it matters. Instead of learning together, many of our students spend hours filling in worksheets or copying down lecture notes that they could find through Google in 30 seconds.

I have a thirteen year old son who often questions the relevance of certain topics of math or other subjects he learns to his day today life. He feels that “teachers are regurgitating and not making it interesting for me to learn” (his exact words). In my opinion most of this content is simply memorized, spewed out for an exam and then quickly forgotten. But beyond this, there’s often only one right answer, which frequently cultivates in our students a fear of failure.

Schools value mastering

For the most part, kids who we consider “academic” tend to have mastered the system. They’ve figured out and can navigate their way through the predictable demands of the system. Are they truly engaged? Rarely are they transformed by their learning. They’re going through the motions.

Research shows that some of the least engaged students are the highest achievers. Think about that. They do well because they know how to “do school.” Is this really the best we have to offer them?

What if you’re not “academic”? Most of these kids pass through too many years of their young lives feeling like they don’t measure up, feeling stupid. And for some, it radically alters their trajectory of their adult lives. Unfortunately, too many students have to recover from school once they graduate. Is this really what we want for them?

Our children are losing their curiosity

We are born curious. When we are babies, we are constantly exploring our environment to learn; naturally without being told. Toddlers are constantly, at times annoyingly, ask, “why?” And yet, by the time a child reaches middle school, they have all but lost their curiosity.

Amanda Lang in her book The Power of Why states: Curious kids learn how to learn, and how to enjoy it – and that, more than any specific body of knowledge, is what they will need to have in the future. The world is changing so rapidly that by the time a student graduates from university, everything he or she learned may already be headed toward obsolescence. The main thing that students need to know is not what to think but how to think in order to face new challenges and solve new problems (p.14).

Learning how to learn and fail and learn some more

We don’t need to create kids who are only good at academics. Instead, we need to create an environment that engages learners, fosters creativity, and puts responsibility for learning where it belongs – with our students.

Instead of rote learning, we need to use content to teach skills. We need to build environments that allow our students to get messy and build things. Places where students learn how to learn, and know how they learn best for example the Finland learning system which is ranked World Number one education system. Where students engage in significant research, and learn how to identify credible resources amidst a plethora of information that, at times, may seem overwhelming.

Furthermore, our students need to be able to problem-solve, innovate and fail over and over again. Throughout all of this, our kids should be collaborating with each other, as well as virtually with students across the globe. They need to be able to communicate powerfully using the mediums of print, photography and video.

Education should be in a way where kids can discover what they love. They should be able to ask the questions that matter to them and pursue the answers. They should discover what they are passionate about, what truly sets their hearts and souls on fire. They should discover they can make a difference now. Above all, they should be able to know what they are good at.

Today, most kids graduate only knowing if they’re good at school or not. Often our students have many talents; they just don’t fit in our current curriculum because their talents are likely not considered “real knowledge.”