What is Learning Anyway??

Stumbled upon (all by myself, without the aid of the website) an interview with David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize winning author of many things historical.

In the interview he says that he believes that “we’re doing a grossly inadequate job of teaching history to our children and grandchildren. I’ve lectured at more than 100 universities and have seen (an ignorance of history) everywhere. What (students) don’t know is sometimes almost humorous. It’s not their fault, it’s ours. We need to do a better job of teaching the teachers.”

He recommends that students read, things they believe are over their heads and in great quantity, as the best way to address this deficiency. And then he talks about one of his teachers.

“One of the most effective history teachers I had in college would not hold us (students) accountable for any (historic) dates. He said, “That’s what books are for, you can look them up.” It was as if he had told me I could put on a pair of wings and fly. It released me to really start to enjoy history.”

How many times have you heard “Why do I need to memorize this for the test? If I need it, I can just look it up??” Perhaps the better question is ‘How many times did I myself ask that question?’ Because the answer would be “Lots.”

It is easy to grade/rate/rank when you are dealing with questions that are black and white. Either you wrote down the right year for the start of the Vietnam War or you were wrong. Easy grading. Easy assessment.

But is that really what’s critical knowledge about that war – or any war – or any time in history? These days – especially – it is so easy to look up facts and figures, but comprehending cause and effect or outside influences or …. the nebulous stuff that requires a paragraph to answer on a test … that’s more of a challenge.

More of a challenge for students because you draw them beyond rote memorization. More of a challenge for teachers because they need to bring more than just right/wrong mentality to the grading of an essay test. Not to mention the time required to grade essay tests (oh Scantron … so attractive, so easy, so measurable.)

With the focus on testing – and dot testing to boot – are we denying children the pleasure of ever finding their wings?

Had drinks with an educator a few weeks ago and he said that this was the first year of the scantron children hitting the high school – those who’ve lived NCLB most of their educational lives. He says they are great with straight question and answer. They are polite and quiet. They can’t be creative, get outside the box, brainstorm or be goofy to save their lives.

This is what we’ve created. I can hope that in college, someone grants them a pair of wings. But I’m concerned and a little bit sad.

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