Is this be a fundamental question that should guide our approach to designing 21st Century schools? If the answer to the question is students are born to be taught, then we will design school, curriculum, space and schedules, according to the needs of educators. Being taught implies that students are “passive bystanders” who pass through the system and get filled with knowledge. Of course, students come to school to “learn” but how and what they learn is determined by teachers and outside curriculum development experts. Consequently, what we determine students need to learn may not be relevant or connected to their experience, interests, or learning profiles. Curriculum, space and schedules align to teachers’ needs not those of students.
On the other hand, if students are born to learn, then presumably we would put them at the center of the action. Instead of being passive participators, students would be partners in the creation of a learning experience. Curriculum would be designed with their experience, interests, and learning profiles in mind. Schedules would be designed according to their developmental needs. Learning spaces would be created that were engaging, flexible, and matched the type of learning experience in which they found themselves. We wouldn’t design fixed learning spaces because each learning event, adapted to student interests and needs, would be unique requiring flexible spaces that could adjust to meet the demands of the learning.
Some would read this and suggest that the vision is soft and playful, rather than hard and rigorous. Not so! In creating learning experiences where students are required to think critically and creatively, problem find and problem solve in developmentally challenging situations, and demonstrate the understanding and skills they acquired, students would have to grapple with relevant and interesting content. Exciting and relevant curriculum delivered in interesting and flexible learning spaces does not have to be anything less than rigorous.
In a study conducted by the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University, they surveyed thousands of high school students regarding their engagement in school and found that 66% of students were bored with school on a regular basis. Researchers were careful to select a student population that was representative. So if two-thirds of students find school boring on a regular basis should we expect to graduate children who are creative, innovative, and ready to engage in the 21st Century economy and workplace? I doubt it. We need to rethink schooling by envisioning students as “born to learn,” not “born to be taught.” A simple shift in mindset might result in the creation of more interesting schools that strive to meet the needs of ALL students.