Recently, I posted an entry on developing custom personal “textbooks” by collecting content from the internet. I was very gratified when that post was picked up by Openeducationnews.org. When I clicked over to their link I discovered another excellent article titled Illusion of Quality in K-12 textbooks written by Jane Park. This event was extremely rewarding to me but it was also a perfect example of why I advocate the use of personally developed research oriented material rather than the use of textbook-like materials.
The publication of my thoughts led me to discover information that provides a more complete foundation for my post. That is at the heart of what occurs in true independent learning. It also extends the post with new information that I can use to learn along with anyone else who reads it and then follows the links provided. Another wonderful benefit of this even was that I was introduced to writers working on the same concepts from whom I can extend my reach.
That is what learning is like in the real world.
Most often after what we think of as formal schooling we learn far more through the interwoven networks of our real work interactions and real research. By research I include any and all learning in any field of endeavor from developing skill in a trade to practicing medicine. All learning should be thought of as a practice.
All of that post-school learning is motivated intrinsically within us thus it is retained. I will never forget Jane Parks’ article because my mind was in what I refer to as the “Learning Mindset”.
The Learning Mindset happens when we are involved in work that has meaning to us. That is why so many people, if they are honest with themselves, readily admit they remember almost nothing they learned in school except that which they use in their lives.
An example of the worst found in the thought of education reformers taken right out of the current debate on education can be found in the January 2010 U. S. News and World Report in an article titled “The Extreme School Makeover”. The article makes the stunning statement that under President Obama’s education proposals seniors “could be expected to solve problems such as – if there are 8 x 10 to the 12th power hydrogen molecules in a volume of 4 x 10 to the 4th power cubic centimeters, what is the average number of hydrogen molecules per cubic centimeter?” Forgive me for I don’t know how to do superscripts in Wordpress. To me this immediately begs the question why would the average citizen ever need to know how to figure the average number of hydrogen molecules per cubic centimeter? And, why would we expect any student not bound for a career in a field in which that arcane problem is useful remember it past the test? Ask any senior why they need to know that information. They will answer “I need it for the test”.
Congratulations the most powerful government on the face of the Earth has labored mightily to lay another rotten egg.
This is an example of why education is failing. That question is one constructed by a committee of individuals who sat down to construct the ideal knowledge set to be learned by the ideal student. They probably asked themselves this inane question as I once did on a similar committee; “what should the high school graduate look like”? That’s a quote from the task set before the committee on which I served. That day was one of the turning points in my outlook on how education is done in this country.
After a while I realized that “the” high school graduate should look nothing like any other high school graduate. Some will most certainly look like future engineers, chemists or medical doctors. But others will look like writers, journalists or anchors. Some will look like diesel mechanics, transmission specialists, entrepreneurs and carpenters. Others will look like biologists, foresters or any of the untold professions that can be found among human beings. Further, each graduate will look different because they are not mass-produced objects put together on some obscene human assembly line.
To look at students any other way is to deny their individuality inherent to each one. That is why learning materials need to fit the individual rather than some ideal group.
Then the committee, more then likely, set out to brainstorm the things this ideal graduate would be able to “know and do”. That particular requirement given in U. S News came from some list of abstractions sewn together by such a committee like some Frankensteinian freak. All such requirements could now be required of every innocent child born in America . Absurdity on absurdity.
Tragically, this is how commercial textbooks are written. The time to blaze a new trail has long since passed. Constructing custom resources using the internet is useful for a number of reasons. Very carefully selected and modified commercial materials can also be useful. But, here are a number of thoughts on why I advocate constructing personal materials.
- The information you find using quality sources will be current.
- An internet based “textbook” can be changed in a heartbeat. If something doesn’t work change it. It isn’t required curriculum.
- The information you find will be specifically fitted for what you or a child needs now.
- The information you select will be relevant to what a child or independent learner needs to learn.
- One thing I did not emphasize in the last post was the value of involving independent learners in the development of the material. Doing so will increase what is retained because it will be meaningful.
- Questions will lead to other questions
- Intrinsic interest will be high.
- As material is discovered and learned neural pathways in the brain will develop due to intrinsic interest.
- As the materials are discovered new questions will arise opening new pathways.
- Research skills which are intrinsically useful will be developed in a natural way just as carpenters and machinists can work with fractions as if they were born with the skill. Those trades use fractions every moment of the day. They can’t help but learn fractions.
- The material will be learned because it is discovered personally and “worked” personally. It isn’t assigned.
The simple reason that most of us don’t learn material that is simply assigned, even if we made 100’s on the assignments, was that our minds were not “personally” engaged by it. We were fulfilling someone elses goal.
We learn the things that are personally meaningful, fit our God-given gifts, fit our God ordained developmental pathways and have meaning to our particular lives.
I won’t try to outline what Jane Park wrote so well in her article. Please read Jane Park’s brilliant article for yourself here.