(Illustration by Nicholas Frith, Wall Street Journal)
I’m entertained by the simultaneous rise in resistance to the Common Core and No Child Left Behind mandates and the renaissance in experiential learning. Between Maker Faires and STEM robot competitions, you’d think making things was a brand-new revelation. Alison Gopnik’s column “A Toddler’s SoufflesAren’t Just Child’s Play” set off a light bulb in my brain. The notion of letting a child cook his own meal does feel like a revelation to many because the educators, parents, and student are so used to preparing for standardized education and standardized tests that they forgot how to cook.
When you consider that this Standardize Everything movement gained its greatest amount of steam with the release of No Child Left Behind, this makes sense. The legislation was co-written by Teddy Kennedy and George W. Bush—two rich guys who quite possibly never cooked their own meal even once. [Feel free to break out of the cooking metaphor—I doubt they gained many real-world skills of any kind, save perhaps how to (insert some mysterious sailing terms here).]
As a result, much of education quickly reverted to skill-n-drill exercises, and school districts that have misread the Common Core as a mandated curriculum (it is not) have in many cases sucked all creativity out of their schools. Some even cut recess at the elementary schools in lieu of more test prep, for chissakes. We now have a nation of kids sitting on their butts instead of, well, doing stuff. The call for experiential learning (aka, learning by doing stuff) is not new--see exhibit John Dewey from 100 years ago--but it is increasingly timely given the push to keep kids in desks improving at one essentially worthless skill: the ability to take tests well.
In the big picture, what we have here is yet another case of America electing rich guys who don’t understand how regular folks live. Seeing Gopnik's column in the Wall Street Journal of all places about the need for experiential learning just drives home the point that sometimes maybe, just maybe, we can be more “hands-off” with the schools: Hire good teachers, then let them be creative. Let them and the students get cooking.