It is well known the education system is due for a major change. A change that shifts away from standardized testing and knowledge dumping. Our current system is adamant about using a strict adherence to memorizing and regurgitating. The problem with this method lies in the fact that it doesn’t give students the necessary skills to apply this knowledge in real-world scenarios and hinders creativity. On Thursday, we sat down with Mr. Haczynski (Mr. H) on Zoom to discuss these problems and ways we can work on improving this outdated model of education.
We started the conversation by asking Mr. H what changes could be made within the next year to improve our education system. He responded with “a genuine approach to mental health.” The emphasis on testing and competition amongst peers can push a student past eustress into distress where they are unable to properly function. He explained that sitting students in front of a screen for a mental health class does not work as he has witnessed first-hand what happens in this scenario: students simply play the video and do something else on the side while completely ignoring the things being taught. Even if they do watch, the solution to stress is not a one-size-fits-all and a video isn’t enough for students that are going through difficult times. Teachers need to be able to combat a student’s stress or problems rather than making them watch a video that will have little impact on their life. We need to reward innovation through implementation and funding needs to be appropriated to educate and train teachers on ways to care for students.
Another main concern we have with the current education system is the lack of control in the hands of the students. They are being told what to do rather than exploring their interests in a loose structure that promotes creativity and genuine growth. Mr. H believes, “We need to develop curiosity within students.” This is an extremely important foundation for students in their early years. Rather than teaching students the answers, we should teach them how to get to that answer and why it matters. This method of teaching will stimulate more questions and a true desire to learn and understand the world around us. As we learned in TOK, knowledge is like an infinite well; as we learn more, we only desire answers to new questions imbuing a passion to learn within us. Mr. H explains that through our current system of teaching and learning, students are being engineered to be the same, like-minded people. Students need to be given some autonomy over choices they make to allow for a smooth transition to adulthood. This can be done by allowing students to consider specialization during middle school and allow students to explore their interests in broad, career-based classes. Moving into high school, the students should be able to pursue tracks of study that interest them rather than making all students take the same classes. Mr. H advises, when searching for a career, to remove stigmas like art is a passion while STEM is a career field because the truth is, both are career fields and passions. You should not steer away from a path because others do not consider it a viable career option or the adults in the room dissuade you from it. If Einstien blindly agreed with Newtonian Mechanics, he might have never built upon and altered it to discover what we now know as relativity.
Additionally, Mr. H advises against over structuring a student’s lives by scheduling a majority of their day. To develop curiosity and resilience within students, they cannot be treated like children. Compared to previous generations, we live in a much “safer” and “organized” environment. However, this dampens our curiosity to learn about the outside world. Sometimes, students need to learn something the hard way and fail rather than simply being told, “You can’t.” The journey of discovery and the process needs to be a lot more hands-on rather than teachers handing information to their students and asking them to learn it. This can be implemented in schools through more hands-on projects or unstructured lessons and play where students are given a chance to explore their own future. As well as teaching facts, these opportunities will promote abstract skills like teamwork, ingenuity, and dedication which cannot be learned from a textbook and are thus far more useful in the real-world than the knowledge that even computers can spit out.
Furthermore, kids need to be taught soft skills and be given the opportunity to focus on themselves. Soft skills include ethics, love, teamwork, and more things that cannot be taught in a traditional setting by explaining the concept or reading it from a PowerPoint. It is something that can only be learned by doing, similar to learning a language. One has to experience these things and learn about how to interact with others in a positive manner. These need to be implemented more in the early years while the minds of children are more malleable. These skills should remain a cornerstone of learning throughout their adolescent years.
Also, one of Mr.H’s central messages is that mental models need to be taught throughout high school. Put simply, a mental model is anything that explains a real-life phenomenon. For example, the law of entropy where disorder only increases as time passes. Or the law of demand, where if the quantity demanded to increase, the price decreases. Mental models are the culmination of years of study by researchers and the more you learn, the more tools you have at hand to solve a particular problem in the future since there is not a single model that can describe the universe in its entirety. Often, mental models can be generalized in many categories and from the book Range, “Generalists triumph in a specialized world,” as they can change the perspective in which they view problems and are not limited to a single background. There are dozens of mental models in each subject and they need to be incorporated into the curriculum to gain a broader understanding of the real world around us.
Finally, a class like TOK needs to be taught all four years to highschool where rather than learning what to think, students learn how to think. This will supersede a single subject by teaching problem-solving techniques and more efficient ways to learn information. Neglected topics like time, space, death, and life would be addressed and students would learn to train their minds. A central component of this class would regard the brain which is truly an amazing structure and most of us don’t realize it. Just smiling requires billions of neurons to fire in less than a second. If we understand the basics of how our brain works, we can learn to be consciously aware of our actions. Even though our generation neglects it, meditation serves as an easy avenue to becoming more reflective and self-aware.
The education system won’t change unless we wish to make a difference. We can advocate for ourselves in many ways. This includes attending school board meetings, writing your representatives and even talking about the issue on social media platforms. It is our time to take charge of our future. It is our time to speak out. It is our time to make a change.