Stop endlessly testing students.
Start talking to them like human beings.
Start telling stories.
Stop assessing outcomes.
Start preserving curiosity.
Stop assigning textbooks.
Start sharing real books.
Stop giving answers.
Start asking questions.
Start learning. Start a conversation. Start connecting. Start a movement.
In his book titled Black Box Thinking: Why Most People Never Learn from Their Mistakes-but Some Do Matthew Syed recounts the following:
"In 2004, Amy Edmondson, a professor at Harvard Business School, and colleagues conducted an influential study into the consequences of a blame culture.
"In her six-month investigation, Edmondson focused on eight different units in two hospitals. She found that some of these units, across both hospitals, had tough, disciplined cultures. In one unit, the nurse manager was “dressed impeccably in a business suit” and she had tough discussions with the nurses “behind closed doors.” In another, the manager was described as “an authority.”
"Blame in these units was common. Nurses said things like: “The environment is unforgiving; heads will roll,” “You get put on trial” and “You’re guilty if you make a mistake.” The managers thought they had their staff on a tight leash. They thought they had a disciplined, high-performance culture. Mistakes were penalized. The managers believed they were on the side of patients, holding the clinicians to account.
"And, at first, it seemed as if these managers were right. Blame seemed to be having a positive impact on performance. Edmondson was amazed to discover that the nurses in these units were hardly ever reporting mistakes. Remarkably, at the toughest unit of all (as determined by a questionnaire and a subjective survey undertaken by an independent researcher), the number of errors reported was less than 10 percent of another unit’s.
"But then Edmondson probed deeper with the help of an anthropologist and found something curious. These nurses in the so-called disciplined cultures may have been reporting fewer errors, but they were making more errors. In the low-blame teams, on the other hand, this finding was reversed. They were reporting more errors, but were making fewer errors overall.
"What was going on? The mystery was, in fact, easy to solve. It was precisely because the nurses in the low-blame teams were reporting so many errors that they were learning from them, and not making the same mistakes again. Nurses in the high-blame teams were not speaking up because they feared the consequences, and so learning was being squandered."
Is there anything to be learned from this story?
In Seth Godin’s book “What to do when it’s your turn (and it’s always your turn)” he has a section titled “The Secret of Teaching (and the secret of learning) where he makes a useful point:
“I’ve taught all my life. And I’ve discovered that there’s only one thing that separates successful students from unsuccessful ones.
The good ones show up and say, “teach me.”
They look at failure and confusion as temporary conditions and say, “that didn’t work, show me another way.”
They are thirsty.
The other students have their arms crossed. They want to know if it’s on the test. They are restless. They need to be sold before they can be taught.
And that’s most of what happens in organized education. If you can’t sell it, people don’t learn it. When frustration (the twin sister of learning) shows up, most people stop trying.
Not thirsty enough."
Students need to hear messages like this from time to time. I know it sounds harsh but the days are long gone when just showing up to school and work led to success. That's not enough. Learning is an activity and it needs this thirst to drive it. I'm often amazed by how my students allow me to confuse them without stopping me. Of course, I don't mean to confuse them but it's clear they are confused. And, they aren't thirsty enough to say "that didn't work, show me another way."
What will happen when they graduate from school and are put in situations where they are confused about what to do? Will they remain just as silent and passive?
I think that often students look around and don't see any other students thirsty enough to learn and so conclude that they are just fine doing nothing. But, someone, somewhere is thirsty and acting on that. Someone somewhere is doing what I call thinking like a philosopher: asking more questions, demanding better answers, learning more than they think they need to know.
In other words, they are thirsty enough. Are you?
When I was in college I asked the same questions most of my students are asking: What does this have to do with me? Relevance is a tricky thing since it often doesn't become apparent until after the fact. You can't always know what's relevant until you've learned about it and used it.
I majored in telecommunications. This was before the internet, the cell phone, the laptop, the iPad. You get the idea. I was interested in doing audio and video production. On the side, I took irrelevant courses like everyone else: history, philosophy, science.
Now, I teach philosophy. Online. So, how irrelevant was my college experience? Not irrelevant at all. Very relevant now, if not quite as obvious then.
Virtually every course I took in college has been useful in some way for me.
Audio production: I record my music using computer recording software. But, the principles of editing and mixing were learned in that course.
Video production: I make videos and post them to YouTube. Different technology, same principles.
Philosophy courses: At the time, irrelevant electives taken because I enjoyed them. Today, it's what I do.
History courses: Philosophy is the history of ideas. Everything has a history and understanding that allows us to understand much of what will happen in the future. Took a while to learn that lesson but the foundation laid in college was important.
Science courses: Philosophy and science continue to converge, each informing the other. No understanding of how the world works and how to think about it is possible without an understanding of scientific principles.
So, what are you taking now that is irrelevant? Are you sure about that? Will it be irrelevant in 20 years? 40? 60? Are you still sure?
KEVIN J. BROWNE
Philosopher / Educator
These blog posts contain links to products on Amazon.com. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.