In a world where so much is tailored to the individual customer – you get just what YOU need – it is interesting to see that this attitude is creeping into education with “School of One”. This is a program in New York City aimed at making the learner the focus and not the classroom, according to Joel Klein, the “willing to try bold new things” chancellor of NYC schools.
I came across this story written by a young man who dropped-out of college, after barely making it through high school, who was told that he’d never amount to anything. Because this happened in Baltimore he was destined for jail and not the job pool. As it turns out he ended up with a decent career in journalism, initially working for Time magazine in an office high above street level in mid-town Manhattan. The question he asks himself, as he thought back about his dissatisfaction with school, was “how could I utterly fail in practice [school] then succeed in the game [life]?”
Of course, if he’d been reading what’s been written in this space he’d understand that the traditional school system is not life and does not prepare you for the living of life – so failing at it is no indication that you’ll fail at life itself.
The author writes about how a job can be highly personalized and that school cannot. This is where the NYC example comes in; it’s an attempt to change this. School of One is an attempt to address the fact that learning is not “one size fits all” because each learner has a unique style, pace and approach to learning. In order to reach all students, School of One makes use of technology to connect different learners to a strategy that works for them. It is brilliant that someone has recognized this and this first step is worthy. But let us also remember that learning only goes so deep in front of a compute screen and that there needs to be some real doing built into the system. While some students may connect to geometry better sitting at a computer watching a tutor in another city and others may connect with a white board in their own class, all of them are only “learning” disconnected content. We need to make the meaning the focus and not “how to get the content in” the focus.
In other words, we may improve on the latter and feel that we’re serving students better, but unless they are attaching meaning to that content, building meaning, they won’t be very far ahead.