At a few schools around the country there’s a glimmer of hope. It seems that some folks, surely a small minority, are getting the idea that meaningful education is more than data retention.
There’s a renewed interest in what the federal government calls STEM programs (science, technology, engineering, math) where these specific skills are developed. Fine, whatever. That’ short-sighted. But some people are taking the higher-level step and recognizing that if you want to introduce, say, engineering to young children, it’s not ABOUT the actual engineering elements or skills that they could learn, it’s about the PROCESS of being creative, solving problems, collaborating: thinking. When five year olds work on a building project they are developing critical and fundamental skills that will translate to other areas in their life. Let’s recognize this more and worry less about what trade they may end up in. It’s not about preparing STEM careers, it should be about preparing for life in any career, and the fundamentals apply across the board.
Some supporters understand this, as the New York Times reports (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/education/14engineering.html?ref=education), they see that an engineering project “promotes critical thinking and creativity, and teaches students not to be afraid of taking intellectual risks” and “you want them to come away with knowledge that goes beyond that problem”. Now that’s worth doing more of. Of course, not all involved really get the big picture, as the NYT also reports that “some parents, teachers and engineers question how much children are really absorbing”, and the head of a national engineering association “cautioned that engineering lessons for youngsters should be kept in perspective, [because] ‘you’re not really learning what I would call engineering fundamentals’. The detractors can’t see the forest for the trees. It has to start somewhere, though.
Let’s hope that the champions of these ideas, the ones who see that there’s something of tremendous value to be gained when children are given the freedom to develop their own solutions, to invent and explore on their own. Maybe it will make a difference or maybe the naysayers will be the majority and toss the efforts after a short while, dispensing it as just another fad.