Shifting views

With increasing pressures for AP courses, standardized testing, and college prep curriculums, we struggle to assimilate the different types of students in our schools, who we sometimes find are treated like widgets in a factory, instead of finely hand-crafted wines.  

Nationally, we determine their success by the output of the factory, rather than the depth of their thinking or the quality of student work and or the school’s fostering of their creativity or innovation.   The emphasis on this assembly line model can cause schools or state governments to think of programs like libraries, technology programs, or arts and career programs as frills, to be cut away to provide time for testing, or to be relegated to being considered “add-ons.”

In Out of Our Minds:  Learning to Be Creative, Sir Ken Robinson pushes for a new paradigm, one that views academic abilities as just one part of what schools do(which we all know is quite true).

He writes:

“What are academic standards, and why do we have such faith in them to deliver the future?  Like the medieval astronomer we continue to believe, despite all the evidence that the system is failing us and the people in it. . . .We ask how to promote creativity and innovation but stifle the processes and conditions that are most likely to bring it about.”

“The world economies are caught up in a genuine paradigm change.  The new technologies do not simply mean that we have new ways of doing things we did before: businesses, organisations and individuals everywhere are faced with entirely new forms of work, leisure and ways of being.  We are trying to meet this new social and economic paradigm using the assumptions and proccupations of the old intellectual paradigm of education.”(p. 92)

Robinson points out “academic abilities” are only one function of education. We work with students on social and community abilities as well as supporting abilities that relate to the work world.    Yet the focus remains on the “academic” abilities.  In his TED talks video, he talks about how we think of our body as some sort of thing to carry our heads/brains around, neglecting the whole person.  

Robinson questions our belief in the linear nature of learning and career planning, pointing out the zig-zaggedy way that most people find their career paths.  But that very “linear” thinking causes us to weigh some courses (academic) as more important than others(career based and arts), because we believe that taking academic courses is the way to prepare a nationally competitive workforce. 

Libraries are an academic part of the curriculum, but in many schools they are relegated to being thought of as a luxury–a place to drop students off for some leisure time, or as something required though no one quite knows why.   Library journal articles talk about librarians learning to make themselves useful in the 21st century economy so they’ll still have jobs, as though reading enjoyment, enriching students lives, supporting their thinking and investigation is a “frill” that won’t be needed in the 21st century school.

The library and arts programs and creative writing programs particularly support something that few other programs on campus do–we encourage students to explore what they are interested in.  Our programs exist to scaffold their thinking, make the world of ideas available to students, and let them follow the serendipity of their own interests and thoughts.   We try to inspire them with the works of others, connect them with ideas that will push their thinking, and show them the history of what has come before.   And we allow them simply to explore the world of ideas.

Where else in a school do students(or for that matter staff) come of their own free will to just explore, look around, read, investigate the internet, or talk about books or ideas with someone?  It is their personal learning space on the campus, their own space for “research and development,”  learning at its essence.  (and libraries that have 24/7 capabilities with websites, open online catalogs, etc. can provide this at all times of the day or night).

I’d love to see a campus grow out of the concept of the library, building a campus around learning as  investigation and exploration, rather than “attach” the library’s mission to the campus as an add-on.  That would be a paradigm shift.  

4 thoughts on “Shifting views

  1. I like your characterization of the library as a creative thinking lab. So sad that many school librarians are viewed as non-essential babysitters.

    The new model for schools needs to include time and space for personal learning exploration, both for students and for teachers. Unstructured does not always mean unproductive.

  2. “With increasing pressures for AP courses, standardized testing, and college prep curriculums, we struggle to assimilate the different types of students in our schools, who we sometimes find are treated like widgets in a factory, instead of finely hand-crafted wines. ”

    I think you’d be happy to hear that many students feel the same way.

    The concept of a library is very interesting, especially since many students today seem to either ignore the existence of a library or have forgotten what a library is really about. Thank you for your post.

    If you are interested, there are some interesting thoughts about education being passed around within the blogs of my classmates and myself. Here are some recent posts regarding testing:

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