Let’s be clear: School is not just about learning but also about social conformity. For example, we must line up to go outside for recess, write our essays in MLA format, eat lunch at a certain time during the day, follow a schedule, participate by raising our hands, and I’m sure you can think of countless other examples. Because I work with kids whose social “deficits” cloud their ability to participate in a traditional classroom, I often wonder: Are we teaching our students to think for themselves or learn by example?
The short of the argument is that students need to learn both critical thinking and social modeling to live and work in the society we’ve created. However, where we struggle in our educational culture is letting the thing kids are passionate about doing, define their learning career. And no, I’m talking about video games 🙂
All too often the thinking skill in our classroom is put aside in favor of following the social cues. Some will argue this comes from our industrialization of education, modeled after Ford’s Model T Assembly Line technique. Others will argue that EQ (the Emotional Quotient) is more important than remembering facts and figures because how we interact with others on a basic human, social level will ultimately determine our success.
I’d like to think that we’re teaching our students to question, rather than just blindly obey. But I’m not sure. For that reason, I’m fascinated by the progressive school movement, which sprung from many homeschooling groups. In general, they believe in a multidisciplinary model of education. This means that independent learning, self-directed study, and outside of the classroom settings are the backdrop to thinking creatively–outside the box– and therefore guiding our students towards their own individual definition of success rather than a set standard of achievement.
As a public school graduate, myself, I followed the traditional classroom model all the way through law school; there is something to be said for teaching our kids to follow the leader. More often than not, however, there is a creative potential in all kids that may get lost along the way, thinking that the expected path is the best path. It happened to me.
I chose my educational journey, my parents did not choose it for me. In fact, they encouraged exploration and defining my career path by my talents and strengths. I was the one who had an exact idea of what success looked like, and I decided early on in my education that I wanted to achieve that set standard. It was only later, after graduation and the recession of 2008, that I started to really think outside of the box and combine my skills to create a company founded on collaboration–an intuitive but outside-of-the-box approach in special education advocacy and education in general.
Did I have this potential all along? Could I have tapped into it sooner if I hadn’t already decided that I wanted a pre-determined notion of success?
The point being is that we’re all born with unique gifts and talents, but our human desire to socially be accepted often overrides our ability to follow our own path. Those students who feel like outsiders, or are treated as such, are the ones that, if nurtured, end up not following the crowd and doing something outside of the box–something uniquely innovative. We, as educators, should cultivate those critical thinking skills and applaud our students when they come up with a novel idea. Although needed, we should place less emphasis on conformity and more on developing an individual’s talents because when it comes down to it, following the crowd will only take you as far as the person in front of you goes.
Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student, combining Academic Support, Behavior Support, and Education Advocacy to bridge the gap between home and school in order to serve the whole student. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com