Recently it was brought to my attention that a new charter high school in Chicago was being shaped by an innovative idea: allowing students to engage in meaning-making activities, based largely on game-theory. This is intended to produce students who can think critically.
Meaning-making is indeed one of the necessary core outcomes of a true education, one which has generally failed to exist in the conventional model. But, the people behind this new charter program fail to grasp a key point: to direct students in their meaning-making cancels out the very thing you desire to achieve.
The subtle issue here is that of “idea generation”. The person generating the idea is the one reaping the benefit. Having others act upon the idea may have some value, if the idea is worthy, but what will not be developed is the ability to generate ideas- to be a critical thinker, or a thinker at all. It’s the genesis point that matters.
This new school calls what they’re doing “digital learning” and they explicitly talk about “getting kids hooked on learning” by making learning feel like a video game. They talk about exploring things actively, with large video screens and tools that are wii-like, to demonstrate principles of physics, for example.
But, if you step back from all the tech jargon you see that it’s simply the latest smoke and mirrors attempt to deliver “content”, much the way conventional education always has. It’s just the latest “use of technology”, after a long line of technological saviors of education (radio, television, computes, the internet).
In the end, the program description here contains all the misguided principles of old: it’s adult-directed, geared towards covering the curriculum and while the idea that students aren’t sitting in their seats all day long is good (let’s see in practice how it actually works out….) it’s not enough to make a fundamental difference.
Understanding what fundamental change in education looks like just seems to be so challenging, I’m coming to believe. I guess that’s why paradigm changes are just that.