Changing Lanes again,

… but using turn signals, because there’s nothing wrong with it.

Teaching with non-teaching. Maybe we should just stop teaching. Sort of. Many of the lessons we’re learning in this pedagogy class focus on changing our abilities to teach, on how we can better use the newest tech as tools, and how to let go and allow students to teach themselves. It is as if our ability to adapt will somehow allow all students to be reached, to allow all students to learn, to allow all to succeed. I say, that depends.

I’m going to switch gears for a minute regarding last week’s post so that I can better see both sides and ask more questions from you, dear reader. It’s kind of a devil’s-advocate-view against my own words. In those words, I discussed cross-training and well-rounded students. Now I’m going to ask: What about highly-specialized students instead?

Yes. All students learn differently, and we need to approach them in ways more conducive to their abilities. But what I haven’t heard is this: we’re still teaching all of the students all of the the same material long after many have shown they lack interest. For instance: Basics? Core? Fundamentals? Are they really essential to our lives? I’ve said it before, I don’t always math good. Not all designers are engineers, and not all engineers are designers. I hated my core classes, and it wasn’t until I got into my major that I became excited. Why did I have to take another English course? Why does this feel like just another year of high school?

Is it possible that some students don’t belong in those 100-plus lecture halls? “Don’t belong” doesn’t mean they are incapable of learning, only that what they’re learning in those classes doesn’t apply well to them. It seems like a waste of time. Again, devil’s advocate voice here.

Flip side: What about the students in their latter years, when they’re starting to get into the meat of their major and really focus on their goals: Are they more focused than in their core classes? I definitely was. So why are we still requiring these ‘fundamentals’ for graduation? I realize the core system is older than the Standards of Learning law, but if you think about it, isn’t this just an extension of the SOLs we so loathe? Why are they in the room if it isn’t important to them? Are they in the right room? #seewhatididthere

I can’t remember his last name, but his first was Chris. He was Swiss, and he was the best CAD teacher I ever had. His background was what Americans might call a high school degree, except his was highly advanced in the construction field. That’s because several countries like Switzerland and Germany allow the educational focus to change according to a student’s abilities. Some kids are more adept with machinery and shop tools. Others are artists and comprehend the nuances of Nietzsche. After their primary years, students are directed into vocational and/or theoretical secondary education depending on their aptitude. This happens when they are around age 11. Secondary education in this manner is meant to prepare you for life-beyond-school, and it begins at eleven in these countries. Eleven. I was trying to figure out how not to get beat up at eleven.

Preparing students for life-beyond-school: what is that? Again, are we beating ourselves up because a few students didn’t read the Odyssey? I’ve read it four different times in four different school systems, including my freshman year in college. It’s a wonderful story, but I can’t think of a context in my life where I’ve used it until just now. It has more than 123,000 words to read, which is time I could have spent better honing the hand skills that my life-beyond-school required. Did I have a bad teacher that did a poor job expressing the metaphors and meanings of this Homeric epic? No. He was humorous and affable, and I picked up the word übermensch from his lectures. I sat right up front and paid attention and read all books and wrote all papers. It just wasn’t my desire to learn more about this material. This fundamental text was not in my lane. And besides, the Iliad has more life lessons in it, am I right?

I think Ellen Langer was misguided in describing her seven mindsets of learning as myths. They aren’t myths to everyone, but to be fair, I also don’t think they are truths. I believe these precepts to be subjective to the person teaching and to the person learning. There are right and wrong answers in air-traffic control – #7. Forgetting to set your alarm will get you fired in life-beyond-school – #5. Rick Perry will never live down that time he forgot what agency he wanted to destroy during the presidential debates. And even though Langer’s driver continued to use a turn signal when no one was around, the law requires he do that. Stupid law, yes, but he was in the right. Change it.

Back to my Swiss-born CAD teacher. Chris lived on a small-town beach in North Carolina with his wife and children. We took study breaks by swimming in the ocean and catching fish. We grilled whatever we caught for dinner, and his kids ran around laughing in English, German and Spanish – his wife’s native language. His skills as a CAD instructor had him flying around the world. He loved what he did and couldn’t have been more welcoming to me.

He also couldn’t stop talking about how the education system in the United State sucked and he was so thankful to have been born somewhere else. He credits that he was setup for success and was encouraged to follow his strengths early on. Similarly, Germany has an 80% rate of hire after graduation, which means there is great value placed on this type system and a high incentive for students to learn.

For some reason, it reminds me of my friend Ty, the designer who stated he went to ‘art school, not smart school.’ Maybe he’s right. He got the art part absolutely right. And the other part about not being smart? He got that right too, but not the way we think. Our society places a high value on certain fields over others, and calls one group smart and another group ignorant.

In reality, it is as much bottom-up as it is top-down. I’m not screaming socialism, but welders are as equally important as engineers in the working of our society – the bridge requires both to function. What if someone had told my teacher Chris that construction work was for drop-outs and engineering school was the way to go? Maybe he would have done well. Maybe he would have burned out. Maybe we should stop teaching students what they don’t need to learn.

I’m not laying blame on teachers teaching poorly. And I’m not laying blame on students skipping lessons. I think there’s another mode where the actual abilities and desires of the students are given more credence and the classes they take are truly important to them on a base level. I believe Chris was right about the differences in our systems. It’s very societal and complex.

We should change that if we can. And please understand I’m not saying a person has to be one thing and only that thing and not anything else. I do not believe this in my heart. We all have many skills and I still encourage their exploration. Some people have lots of them: Think of the jack-of-all-trades, the polymaths – the übermenschen. If my doctor is also an artist – wonderful. But really, I’m not going to cry if she failed my design class – maybe it wasn’t her lane. And truth be told, I’m okay if my heart still looks like a heart and not like a Picasso. I’m fine with that. Does that mean I’m a bad design teacher?

What does your devil’s advocate say?