Monday, October 8, 2012

This American School

  Is there anything better than a quiet Sunday afternoon listening to Ira Glass and This American Life?  Not that I ever get to indulge this pleasure, but I know it must be a wonderful thing to do.  Not long ago they featured an hour-long segment I managed to listen to twice while grading papers at school.  Honestly, this piece is worth listening to many times.  Listen to it in parts and consider its implications for schools, testing, No Child Left Behind, and our entire conception of education and schooling.  Listen here…

Essentially, this is a long discussion about what really matters in one’s education.  We are in the midst of a trend in American education that stresses test scores as a measure of cognitive skills.  We are valueing book smarts above all else.  But I will bet that when you stop and think about it we can all find examples of many students, colleagues and friends with excellent  measured cognitive skills who lacked the sense to come in from the rain.  And we know others who struggled with book skills in a traditional school setting who became entrepreneurs, teachers, business leaders and so on. 
A growing body of research is pointing to non-cognitive skills as the key to success.  These skills or traits include tenacity, resilience, and impulse control.  As educators we must consider how we teach these skills and to what degree we simply expect kids to have these from their homes or by virtue of their personalities.  Can any of us honestly say that someone’s IQ or SAT score had a great impact or served as a greater predictor of their eventual success than personality traits.  Where do tenacity, resilience, and impulse control come from? How and from whom do we learn these skills or traits?  Can we teach them in the classroom?  In this era of accountability, business models and an insistence on measurable results, can we measure tenacity, resilience, and impulse control?  

If the research indicates that these traits are most important predictors of success we must figure out how to teach them.  We must figure out how to measure them.  We must put the focus back on what really matters. 

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