Friday, March 20, 2009

Do we still need teachers?

I recently read Turning Learning Right Side Up by Russell Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg and was inspired to consider sending my students to Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, MA. Sudbury Valley is an alternative school (K-12) where students create their own learning and are guided by their own curiosity and interests to pursue knowledge without being "forced" to do so by adults. There are no grades, no classes, and no homework.

In the book Greenberg and Ackoff state that "Schools are upside down: Students should be teaching and faculty learning." (p. 4) "The objective of education is learning, not teaching." (p. 5) "... the most important thing for students to learn is how to learn and to be motivated to do so throughout their lives" (p. 46)

My children, ages 4 (pre-K) and 6 (1st grade), attend our local public school. While I feel that their teachers are committed and passionate educators, I have also seen the affect of our national obsession with testing push out all subjects but reading and math. My son, who is fascinated with science and animals, is begging for more science experiments. I want my children to be encouraged to pursue their passions, to follow their questions and to play. With this in mind, my family and I went out to the Sudbury Valley School for an interview.

As we walked around Sudbury Valley we saw children of all ages engaged in a variety of activites. Two seven year old girls had been playing in a room all day with all kinds of toys, teenagers were playing magic cards and were on computers, some were playing volley ball outside, others were hanging out and talking, and one boy sat at a piano composing music. I was struck by the absence of adults.

I understand that the premise behind this school is that children don't need adults to tell them what to learn, that they discover answers by themselves. But what I learned about myself is that I want my children to have a teacher. I believe in the power of teachers to guide and inspire students' learning. Maybe I am stuck in an old way of thinking, but for now, I am not ready to give that up.

Perhaps it is the teacher in me, having been an educator for the last 16 years, that still believes in teachers. Maybe I just want to save my own dying breed, but I do think there is value in what I do. I feel we teachers have something to contribute, even in a changing learning landscape. Yes, we need to focus more on creativity and innovation and less on rote memorization, but teachers still play an important role in that process. Obviously, I am a bit biased.

What do you think?
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