Every week, my kids bring home their “Friday Folders” from school, usually packed with paper…torn out worksheet pages, handouts from school, permission slips, tests taken, more worksheets, lunch menus, letters from the principal, more worksheets, more tests, an occasional fund raiser, and yet more worksheets. Wendy and I sign our names to much of it, usually in a Monday morning blur, our kids shoving it in front of our faces saying “Just sign it Dad, it’s nothing” or something similar when we ask just what it is we’re signing. And the next week, that signed paper comes back with another flurry of worksheets and tests and quizzes and god knows what else.

We’ve been collecting it, all of this Friday Folder paper, growing what’s become an enormous pile of it in the corner of our bedroom, a pile that I guess in the eyes of their school in some way represents the learning that my kids have done this year. I’m guessing we’re supposed to be proud of all of this accomplishment, this big pile of paper that my kids never, ever revisit as it sits there, growing week by week. Sometimes I look at it and see 1,000 paper airplanes. And sometimes I look at it and wonder if what it really represents is not so much what my kids know as what they have become, a couple of highly dependent learners, enabled by their teachers and their school to produce a constant stream of, of…of what? Knowledge? Learning? Busy work?

I was reminded of this by David’s post today where he writes about the need for students to become more self-directed, to take charge of more of their own learning in a world where, for the kids who are connected, at least, there is so much more to learn. I know this isn’t anything new; we should have been teaching kids that all along. But the fact is that what we’ve taught them is that the teacher sets the agenda, defines the method, assesses the outcome and controls the whole process. And as David suggests, it’s no wonder many teachers and adults in general seem to be waiting for someone, anyone, to teach them instead of taking the initiative to teach themselves; we are most all products of the system.

But I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to what my own children are going to need to be able to do when they get to where they have to support my wife and I in our old age, and I’m convinced that none of what they are learning now is going to in anyway ensure a pleasant retirement for us. They are not being empowered to learn, not being helped to become:

  • Self-learners who are able to navigate the 10 or 15 or however many job changes people are predicting for them by the time they are 30
  • Self-selectors who must find and evaluate and finally choose their own teachers and collaborators as they build their own networks of learners
  • Self-editors who can look at a piece of information and assess it on a variety of levels, not simply believe it because someone else does
  • Self-organizers who can manage the slew of information coming at them by developing their own structures and strategies for making sense of it all
  • Self-reflectors who are not solely dependent on external evaluation to drive their decision making and their evolution as learners and people
  • Self-publishers who understand the power and importance of sharing and connecting information and knowledge and can do it effectively and ethically
  • Self-protectors who understand where the online dangers lie, can recognize them, and can act appropriately to stay away from harm

Of course, all of this requires a certain willingness to relinquish control, not just of the things we know but of the things we don’t know. In fact, that second part is even more important, I think.

The teachers in my kids’ school are good people, and I know I’m a tough parent. But the more I look at it, the more I’m convinced that my kids just are not being served by the constant passing of paper back and forth, by a curriculum that’s driven by stupid assessments that require answers that may no longer be accurate or relevant by the time my kids need to actually call them up later in life. It’s the exact opposite of what they need. And I’m not sure I can sign off on it much longer…

(Photo “fly the flickr skies” by gadjoboy.)

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