What are the “basics” in education today?

Some things I have been thinking about and questions I have been pondering.

1. When we talk about “learning” are we talking about the ability to do well in school or the ability to learn?

To some, it might seem like a false dichotomy, but here is the way that I see it; if you help students become great learners, they will be fine in school. But if you focus on students doing well in school, this doesn’t necessarily mean they will become good learners.

I bring this up because often, when you look at research on “learning in schools,” the effectiveness is based on how anything impacts grades, scores, etc. “Being a great learner” is much harder to measure than “being good at school.” The skills aren’t necessarily the same.

I use this image to promote this discussion, and it is not an “either/or,” but it is meant to really think about what our end goals are for education:

Many organizations and individual educators have done a great job to move the needle in this area, but it is not about one or the other. For example, consumption was the norm in school when I was a student, and creation was done at a minimal level. Consumption is an important skill, but what do learners create with what they know?

This leads to another question.

2. How do we promote intelligence and ability levels in schools outside of traditional school subjects?

A recent college graduate asked me if students need to learn high-level math. I said some do, depending on what they want to do in the next phase of their life, but I struggled with saying that all students would need to know a certain level of math. Of course, I believe in the importance that students have basic literacy and numeracy skills (more on this in a second), but I really struggled in math past grade 9, and although I was really good at other things, school made me feel really dumb. My gifts were not necessarily in academics and in the classrooms in which I thrived, those teachers knew this and tapped into it in the classroom.

Another thing to consider is that I hated reading and writing when I left school. If you would have asked me, “Do you think you will write a book in the future?” I would have said, “You will be lucky if I read a book after this experience.”

I had the ability to read and write; I didn’t want to because I was often encouraged to write in a way that I wasn’t interested in doing. I was approached to write “The Innovator’s Mindset” by a publishing company, and when I sent them my first draft, they tore it apart and said that it wasn’t “academic” enough in its delivery. I totally understand that is what some people like to read, but I have struggled to read books because I don’t feel any emotional connection to them, and they seem to be mostly informational. Why would I want to write a book that I wouldn’t want to read myself? Luckily, another publisher came along and said, “We want you to write the book the way you write your blog.” I signed immediately.

If you love weighty academic materials, that is awesome. Kudos to you because I struggle with it myself. But that is not my strength nor interest. Do we encourage kids to find their own voice, tap into their own passions or strengths, or have a pre-determined way of how learning and creation should look? My style might not be for you, but it is for other people. There are multiple paths to success and happiness.

Here is something that I say all of the time:

My goal is not to get all students to college; my goal is to help students find a pathway to success in a way that is meaningful to them.

There are so many opportunities that exist today that didn’t when I was a student. We need to take advantage.

3. What are the “basics” in education? How have they changed, and what has stayed the same?

Here is what I know. The “basics” constantly evolve in our world. Perhaps, a basic skill was the ability to write in hieroglyphics (thanks spell check for teaching me how to spell that word) at one point in our world, but it is no longer. Literacy evolves.

I think students need to have the ability to read and write to this day, but maybe I am wrong on this. Do students need to know how to make media? Create content? Connect with others via technology? I don’t know if these would be categorized as “basic” skills, but I think we should be talking about what that term means today.

Numeracy skills, I believe, are still important but do students walk out of schools with basic financial literacy skills?

This meme always makes me laugh.

"I'm glad I learned about parallelograms instead of taxes, it's really come in handy this parallelogram season!"

I walked out of high school with no concept of basic financial literacy. I was offered a credit card on my first day of university with a $500 limit and spent about $250 on it. When I received my first bill, the company I owed told me that I had a minimum payment of something like $20, but I decided it made more sense to pay it back all once. When notice 2, 3, and 4 came, I didn’t really understand why they were bugging me so much because I knew I would pay them back. Six months later, my credit score was destroyed for the next seven years, and I learned a financial literacy lesson a tough way that impacted a lot over those next several years.

I know that my own children will learn this lesson from me, but I am not sure it will happen for every student in our schools.

I have ideas on these questions, but I think my answers are not as important as the discussions that we can have as a community on the answers to these questions in the past and can be in the future for our students.

Just a few things that I have been thinking about a lot lately, and I would love to hear any thoughts that you have.

Innovative Teaching, Learning, and Leadership Consultant. I also like dogs.