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Jay Lemke is Professor Emeritus at the City University of New York. He has also been Professor in the PhD Programs in Science Education, Learning Technologies, and Literacy Language and Culture at the University of Michigan (Ann Arbor) and most recently adjunct Professor in Communication at the University of California - San Diego and Senior Research Scientist in the Laboratory for Comparative Human Cognition (LCHC). Professor Lemke's research investigates multimedia communication, learning, and emotion in the context of social and cultural change.

Entries in school reform (1)

After Schools, What Comes Next?

What, in the history of Education, comes after the really bad idea of schools?

Do you remember how totally boring school was? In class. If it was ever exciting, that was usually somewhere outside the official curriculum.

How well could your teachers get to know you in 30 weeks? Or 15? Before you moved on to yet other new teachers? Your interests, problems, needs?

And if by chance there was something interesting to learn about, 40 minutes and 30 other students in the room made real learning almost impossible.

Gathering a few dozen students in a room empty of all but textbooks and worksheets, with one teacher, sitting in rows, all day, to all learn the same standard things at the same pace – was an idea invented by the Sumerians in about 3000 BC.

So much for the march of progress!

How else can people get an education besides sitting in the factories we misname schools?

And why in Hell’s name does everyone have to learn exactly the same thing week after week, year after year, for 12 very long years?!

The institution of schooling, as we know it, simply cannot possibly prepare young people well for the world of the 21st century. There is no point in trying to fix it or reform it. It is structurally dysfunctional for our time in history. It needs to be replaced with something better.

Such as? More time spent talking with teachers and other adults, instead of just listening to them. Talking one-on-one or in small groups (small is no more than 6!). More time spent out in the real world, in internships, apprenticeships, and service learning. Doing. And then coming back to small groups with experienced adults (not necessarily always trained teachers) to reflect on and critique what they’ve done and seen other people doing. To ask questions. To put things into a bigger picture.

Such as … More individualized learning of subjects you are really interested in; more attention being paid to what you’ve missed and need to pick up in order to go on with what you want to learn; more learning online of what you can learn online, with teacher time reserved for what you really need a teacher for.

Schools need to be replaced with a mixed system that combines these elements in new ways, keeping only as much of the old system as can be proven to work better than any alternative. No large classes, at all. No standardized one-size-fits-all curriculum for everyone, at all. No ludicrous multiple-choice testing, at all.

I have been a professor of Education at leading universities for over 30 years. I know all the arguments pro and con. I have worked with teachers in public schools, sitting in their classes several times a week, for most of that time. I know that most teachers try really hard. Their job is impossible except under the most ideal conditions, and the best they can achieve is rarely good enough to produce thoughtful, critical, informed, and skilled graduates with a passion for understanding. The usual result is just the opposite.

Most experienced educators I have talked to agree with me. But they are afraid to try changing something as socially gigantic and historically entrenched as our failed system of schooling. They also fear, legitimately, that any changes will put those least well served now by schooling even more at risk.

We can do better than sending kids to schools. Now is the time to say so and to start talking about what comes after schools.

For more details see:
http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jaylemke/papers/Re-engineering_Education.htm