Finding the Missing Element in Education

It’s been a while since I’ve written about the books I’ve been reading. Unfortunately, it’s because I haven’t been reading much. I’m in need of some more inspirational material. Maybe I need some more Bill Bryson under the Christmas tree or something.

Recently I have made it through one book, hailed as a must read by Costco magazine a couple of months ago. It’s also apparently a New York Times Bestseller. It may have felt like a phenomenal read to me in 2009 when it was published, but now, it just falls flat. The book is based around one idea that has been so often articulated lately that it no longer sounds original.

The Element¬†The-Element is basically a long essay full of stories about how different people have obtained success through means other than traditional education mean. It’s a critical examination of the contemporary k-12 system, and encouragement for people to follow their passions instead of opting for conventional means. The author, Ken Robinson, advocates people finding what they love to do, learning what their preferred learning style is, and pursuing their dreams, regardless of what people might say to them.

For me, the strongest points that resonated are Robinson’s articulation of different learning styles and his commentary about school systems needing to do more to engage and address students in these different learning styles. I think back to my days teaching sophomore and senior English courses, and the topics that my students really connected with. They didn’t care for older literature or traditional lecture styles, but loved when I incorporated non-linear PowerPoints that gave students a say in their selected material, or when I used Youtube videos of popular commercials to prompt discussions about marketing tactics.

Education needs to be relevant to our present day, and it needs to meet students where they’re at and equip them with marketable skill sets that use their own personal interests and strengths. I sit at a funny intersection where I feel I need to defend the school system because of how difficult I know it can be to work in a school and accomplish everything set in front of you, and a place where I really do not believe in the standardization and simplification of modern education.

How do I step back into an educational setting where I can teach kids about following their dreams when I don’t believe that NCLB is the way to go? How do I teach them to believe in themselves and pursue their passions when I know that they need to be able to pass their tests in the spring? Robinson gives a lot of anecdotes in his book about how important it is to find your passion, but other than “Leave school and create your own path”, he doesn’t provide a lot of help for those of us who are looking at the school system and trying to find a way to make things work with the way they’re set up now.

I wanted more practical tips about discerning one’s passion and fostering it, and fewer anecdotes about the success about famous people whom I will never meet. It’s clear to me by now that entrepreneurship and innovation are the best ways to get us through this current situation, but now I’m left wondering how to work with our current situation on a community wide scale. How do we work to unlock people’s passions, equip them, and empower them to achieve, when everything around them is so regulated and standardized? Let’s promote creativity, individuality, and individual agency. That can’t be too hard, can it?