Uncommon to Our Core

John Dewey Quote Re: Learning Naturally

By Stefanie Weyand,  Campus Teacher (Olders, Grades 9–12) and Clonlara Graduate 

A paradigm shift is happening in the United States. Americans are beginning to doubt the Prussian style of education that has been the common way of teaching our children. Brought to us by Horace Mann, who could have only dreamed of advancements like the internet, U.S. schools have not changed much since 1852. We still expect kids to sit quietly, memorize facts, and repeat them on testing day. A large body of research now shows that this model is no longer the best way to educate our students, which begs the following questions: Why do so many of our schools and education leaders insist on continuing down this path? Why aren’t more of them considering the way Finland educates its children when that country ranked first in the world for education compared to the United States at 17th in an index of international education systems?

In a 2014 policy report (PDF), David Conley describes the Common Core Standards as a way to “equip students to be successful lifelong learners.” He writes, “Educational standards can help ensure that students in every school have the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills critical to success in college, career, and life…. When developed and implemented properly, they help ensure all students have access to an education that addresses the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful.” The implication is that if every student is given equal standards from which to learn from, they will in turn learn equally across the board despite differences in learning abilities, socioeconomic status, or community awareness. The standards detail what each student should know by each grade level as if learning were somehow that simple.

Finland has done away with standardized testing before age 16, and its students have very little homework. In addition, Finnish students do not start school before age 7 and learn in a more interdisciplinary way instead of having to learn disjointed subjects with no connection to each other. The first six years in school are spent learning HOW to learn, which I would argue is MUCH more important than learning WHAT to learn in this 21st century world where “what-we-should-learn” changes faster than our new technology. Finnish educators are also more interested in what each child’s passion is as opposed to whether they can meet certain targets like reading by 1st grade.

As a facilitator in a democratic school like Clonlara, it is an integral part of my job to really get to know my students. It is important not just to support them in their academics but also to help them relate to each other and build a community. In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks emphasizes the importance of interacting with students according to their needs. She says, “Seeing the classroom always as a communal space enhances the likelihood of collective effort in creating and sustaining a learning community.” At Clonlara, we know that this helps create excitement in the learning environment and keeps students engaged.

I am proud to work at a school that genuinely considers the student first and does not worry whether they are hitting arbitrary milestones enforced by those who do not understand that students don’t all learn the same way—what will it take for the traditional education system in our country to finally catch on?

Further Reading

Do you think Finland’s example will help to spur countries like the United States into making the shift to more student-centered learning on a broader scale? Please share your thoughts.

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