An Idea for Education

Describe an idea (yours or someone else's) that you believe could significantly improve education. How would it change education?

As I explore this question, I have in mind that forty-one percent of the over nine hundred freshmen at my school, the largest public high school in Georgia, right now are failing mathematics. Many students today, it seems, are not fully engaged in education, and we are not seeing in those that are the interdisciplinary and intercultural qualities that many professionals suggest must be present for them to successfully navigate our changing reality. To be sure, my proposal does not resolve the myriad factors involved, but it does address this predicament at its core and also the challenges that public education faces broadly.

Earlier this year, Mark Taylor (Columbia) wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times that I cannot get out of my head. He argues for a curricular reorientation, urging educators to dissolve traditional curricular divisions (eg, math, science, language arts, history) and to reorganize academic knowledge and skills around contemporary global challenges that are inherently more interdisciplinary and intercultural (eg, water, energy, media, et al). I share this vision with two small caveats: first, that we limit the restructuring to avoid unwanted dilution of subject matter, particularly of those highly specialized themes that require laser-focus attention to minutia; and second, that efforts to incorporate more teacher-led small groups into students’ schedules accompany the reorientation.

Such a program will generate a more engaging curriculum where the connection between class work and real life is more apparent and the possibility of young people contributing solutions to the larger conversation increases. It will also graduate students who more naturally think and operate along multidisciplinary and multicultural lines and are better equipped to address 21st century questions. Even teachers will progress as these new exchanges challenge habits of compartmentalized thinking and break down the intellectual barriers to cross-disciplinary epiphanies that are often snuffed out by rigidly divided curricula. Finally, the incorporation of small groups will increase accountability for learning and the extent to which teachers can mentor their students for the public good.

I see as one possibility refining (and redefining as needed) such a plan during my studies next year. Regardless, I say let us renovate our instructional approach, and drastically. Let us revamp our students’ plan of study, enlarge their experience, and involve them now in the global conversation.

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