Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Educational Change/Soft Skills
|“||We cannot adopt the way of living that was satisfactory a hundred years ago. The world in which we live has changed, and we must change with it.||”|
There is an old adage that says “If it is not broken, don’t fix it.” Sadly, this wise saying does not apply to the crisis facing America’s schools. The system of education in America’s schools is in need of repair. Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), one of the major focuses in America’s schools is raising the test scores of America’s students in order to comply with the NCLB Act. Many schools have demonstrated with their test scores that they are showing adequate yearly progress (A.Y.P.); a mandate of NCLB Act. However, many educators and parents are concerned that these objectives do not adequately fix the problems in the current system of education.
Rather than focus mainly on test accountability, American schools need to also focus on new objectives such as creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship. To promote a positive learning environment, it is essential that these three objectives be an integral part of the schools’ curriculum and manifested within every classroom.
The system of education in America has changed over the years. However, there is a greater mandate for change in the schools approach to education. All children do not learn the same. Therefore, our philosophy in educating students should not be a “one size fits all” mentality. It is important that our pedagogies reflect changing times. In order to change and improve our education system, Dennis Littky, cofounder of the Big Picture Company and the director of MET schools in Providence, Rhode Island suggests that, “We must love our children more than we love our current education system and structures” (2004). Littky and his administration are strong advocates for catalyzing changes in American education in schools across the country. The MET school’s philosophy is educating “one student at a time.” Since the Metropolitan Regional Center and Technical Center (MET) school’s founding, they have successfully demonstrated a “98 percent college application rate; a 98 percent college rate; 95 percent attendance rate; and a dropout rate of less than 3 percent” (2004).
|“||Creativity – and not standardization – may be the driving force behind an effective education system.||”|
The concern of many educators is that American schools are sacrificing crucial key objectives within the educational system, which Yong Zhao refers to as “our secret weapon” (2006), due to the pressure to raise test scores. The “secret weapon” Zhao is referring to is creative thinking. According to Zhao, our major competitors who already have “test score” driven curriculums are seeking creativity and American schools are fixing the wrong set of problems. Zhao points out that, “Whereas U.S. schools are now encouraged, even forced, to chase after test scores, China, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan - all named as major competitors- have started education reforms aimed at fostering more creativity and innovative thinking among their citizens” (2006).
Creativity can be fostered or it can be stifled. As defined by educator Larry Roberts, “Creativity involves a person’s ability to use imagination or inventiveness to bring something into existence” (2003). Everyone has the ability to be creative. For some students it is easier than for others. This is why it is important that schools set up a learning environment that encourages the creativity process. Many educators feel that creativity and independent thinking are being sacrificed and are looking for ways to bring meaning and joy back into the classroom. Ron Ritchhart, author and teacher, suggests three ways to help teachers to respond to the pressures of standards and external exams. (1) Creativity and curriculum – look at what you are asked to teach with an eye towards shaping it in new and more productive ways, which may involve the teacher finding new topics to explore; (2) Creativity and instruction – a creative approach to instruction entails finding new ways to accomplish familiar tasks by asking yourself the question, “How can I make this content more engaging and meaningful for my students?”; (3) Creativity and students – design open-ended projects and assignments in order to provide many avenues for personalized expression as students think for themselves and develop original response to the curriculum (2004).
When students are allowed and encouraged to use their imagination and creativity, it enhances and adds excitement to learning, for both teacher and student. In a truly creative environment, learning is more than rote memorization. Students become engage and interact with the learning material. They cease to be spectators; hence real learning begins.
Learning strategies are another way to help engaged students and promote learning. Howard Gardner’s theory on multiple intelligences (1983) provides teachers with an excellent vehicle to cultivate creativity within the classroom environment. In Gardner’s theory, the school’s curriculum must appeal to multiple facets of a child’s intelligence recognizing that a child learns in many ways. Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory was applied in a Multiple Intelligence/Learning for Understanding (MI/LfU) pilot study at a community college. In the school’s findings, ninety-two percent of students rated their understanding level of academic material at the satisfied to excellent range after completing an M/LfU course (Diaz-Lefebvre, 2004). Put simply, the best way to minimize the “memorization-regurgitation game” (2004), which is the learning process for many students, is to expose them to other methods of learning. An effective educational system includes creativity in order to better prepare students to become innovate thinkers in the global world.
|“||In teaching, as in business, it is the sizzle that sells the steak.||”|
—Rachel Laufer Anderson, teacher
Creativity and innovation go hand and hand; both are important objectives needed in schools in America. Innovative educators teach creatively and make learning relevant to students by utilizing real life experiences in their classrooms. The authors of “An Entrepreneur in the Classroom: Innovative Teaching,” compare teachers to entrepreneurs, referring to them as “creative risk takers in the education world” (Anderson, et.al.1997). These authors define innovative teaching within the context of entrepreneurship. “In the same way entrepreneurs recognize skills and talents in those around them and act to capitalize on them: innovative teachers also recognize in their students abilities in varying degrees and seek to provide a conducive environment to develop the child’s individual skills and talents” (1997). As one teacher put it, “In teaching, as in business, it is the sizzle that sells the steak” (1997).
Innovative teachers produce creative students. Innovation serves to benefit students in many ways. Educator, Ron Ritchhart has identified four benefits of creative and innovative teaching within the classroom: motivational, social, efficacy, and performance (2004).
The first benefit is motivational because teachers “foster intellectual passion” among their students; therefore students are motivated to learn (Ritchhart, 2004).
The second benefit is social. Students are encouraged to work together as a team to understand the learning material “building learning communities within the classroom” (Ritchhart, 2004).
The third benefit is efficacy which helps students gain “a sense of efficacy as they learn how to learn and develop the habits of mind that support good and productive thinking” (Ritchhart, 2004).
The fourth benefit is performance. Students learn the material not just memorize it increasing their ability to apply what they have learned properly in new situations (Ritchhart, 2004).
Teachers often use real-world applications to help students to make connections and apply them. For example, Ward Ellis, an eighth grade physical science teacher at Toano Middle School in Virginia, used hot air balloons rides as an innovative approach to illustrate density to his students. At the end of the school year, he concludes the chemistry and physics unit by bringing in his truck and dismantled engine to demonstrate how simple machine operation works. In the classroom, his philosophy is “Making what you learn to fit your life” (Ward Ellis, personal communication, September 18, 2007).
|“||To make learning relevant, we must create links between schools and business, between the courses students take and real–life experiences.||”|
|“||While the end goal, to ensure a quality education for all, is worthwhile, we need to be careful that our efforts to ensure across-the-board quality in the educational experience don’t diminish the very excellence we prize, that in our efforts to raise the floor, we don’t revert to lowering the ceiling.||”|
Entrepreneurship as a new objective in schools in America can be accomplished in two ways: First, by the teacher viewing themselves as entrepreneurs realizing that they have a product (education) and the students are the consumers. Secondly, schools should implement entrepreneurial education within their curriculum in order to teach students to think entrepreneurially. In an attempt to encourage the development of entrepreneurial thinking among students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels, the American Educational Research Association designed a program called Entrepreneurs in Action! The entrepreneur education program was combined with curricular context, independent thinking, and problem solving in a business context. By using a cognitive apprenticeship approach, “Students used knowledge in ways similar to how they would use it in a practical, or “authentic,” setting. For example, if students learn mathematics in authentic settings, such as in setting up a business, they are more likely to begin thinking “like a mathematician,” or to see the world the way a mathematician would see it” (2003). The most significant outcome of the program was that students learn to think for themselves while learning to explore and discover ideas new to them (2003).
Entrepreneurial education is effective in using “real-life” contexts to teach students and help them to understand how to problem solve. As one of the objectives in schools, it can help teach student how to be innovative and develop critical thinking skills. It serves as an important component in preparing students for future success as business owners and leaders, as well as helping them to compete successfully in a global economy.
One way to fix the problems plaguing the system of education in American schools is for educators to rethink the role that creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship plays within each school curriculum and classroom. The purpose of these objectives serves to educate our students, producing students who enjoy learning, as well as teachers who enjoy teaching. The end result is a successful learning environment where students are motivated, engaged, and excited about the product we sell – education.
Besides educator Ward Ellis, there are many other teachers using creative and innovative teaching approaches in their class room as a means to inspire and cultivate learning in their classrooms. For instance, David McDivitt, of Oak Hill High School in Indiana, used a computer game to teach his students about the political and economic causes of World War II. Also Caroline Faure, of Highland High School in Idaho, brought real-world journalism to her students through live broadcasting. The broadcasting program was so successful that it broadcast live to the school’s community. Faure credits the success of the program on the “Three R’s for the next generation: rigor, relevancy, and relationships. It’s rigorous, incorporating reading, writing, science, and math. It’s relevant, providing students with content that stresses real-work experiences. And it’s about relationships” (T.H.E. Journal, 2006).
Multiple Choice Questions
Click to reveal the answer.
Click to reveal a sample response.
- 2006 Innovators. (2006). T.H.E. Journal. 33(17), 14-27. Retrieved September 10, 2007, from ERIC database.
- Anderson, Rachel, Dobbs, Kristine, Jenkins, Brigid, & Short, Patty. (1997). An Entrepreneur in the Classroom! Innovative Teaching. EDRS, 1-19. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from ERIC database.
- Carrier, Cheryl. (2007). Recognizing Career Academy Innovation. Techniques: Connecting Education and Careers, 82(2), 38-39. Retrieved September 10, 2007, from ERIC database.
- Clouse, R. Wilburn, Goodwin, Terry, Davey, Mark, & Burgoyne, Jeff. (2003). Entrepreneurs in Action: An Integrated Approach to Problem Solving Via The Internet. American Educational Research Association, 1-24. Retrieved September 10, 2007, from ERIC database.
- Díaz-Lefebvre, René. (2004). Multiple Intelligences, Learning for Understanding, and Creative Assessment: Some Pieces to the Puzzle of Learning. Teachers College Record, 106(1), 49-57. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from ERIC database.
- Littky, Dennis. (2004). If We Love Our Children More Than We Love Our Schools, the System Must Change. Educational Horizons, 28(4), 284-289. Retrieved September 12, 2007, from ERIC database.
- Ritchhart, Ron. (2004). Creative Teaching in the Shadow of the Standards. Independent School, 63(2), 32-41. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from ERIC database.
- Roberts, Larry. (2003). Creativity. Technology Concepts, 12. Retrieved from September 12, 2007, from ERIC database.
- Zhao, Yong. (2006). Are We Fixing the Wrong Things? Educational Leadership, 63(8), 28-31. Retrieved September 11, 2007, from ERIC database.