A call to arms: Challenging the Prussian paradigm

The traditional American educational paradigm is broken. Fundamentally broken in huge and important ways. Does this sound familiar?

First, from the teacher’s perspective:

This is not my forst rodeo. I plan with the end in mind as Wiggins and McTighe advise. I differentiate my lessons to access multiple modalities, to move through Bloom’s taxonomy and to vary educational delivery methods. Over the years, I’ve evolved my lessons to follow first Wong, then Hunter, then Lemov’s related suggestions about effective instruction: I’ve got a clear objective, an effective pacing, am focused on reaching objectives instead of simply engaging kids in activities, and my lessons move through the standard components of warm up, direct instruction, guided practice, independent practice, and end with a check for understanding. I don’t know why the kids aren’t able to do X or Y; I’m working so hard and doing everything right!

And now from a student’s perspective:

I come to class and know what to expect. The teacher knows I need to pass The Test, and sometimes we do cool stuff, and sometimes we do test prep. Most days, she’s going to ask me a warm up question, then were going to take notes, then we try what we’ve learned on our own or in small groups while she walks around the room. If I’m working by myself, I can check my texts while she’s across the room; if I’m in a small group, I can chat about my crush then. For homework we will do more practice, and tomorrow she will check to see that I’ve done it and/or take it for a grade. I don’t really have to think about the homework because I can either copy it from a friend in study hall or homeroom, or I can just tell her I didn’t get some part of it and she’ll spend more time on it. Some days I do my homework and some days I don’t. I don’t feel bad about this because everyone else is doing it anyway, I’m too busy, and the assignments are boring anyway. It doesn’t matter how I do on tests because I can correct them or she’ll offer me extra credit. And besides, it’s not like I really need this stuff in the “real world” they keep telling me about.

The problem with this model of instruction is that it is a part of a larger Prussian model of education which – by design – is not student-centered and does not foster creativity, individuality, or innovation. It doesn’t matter how backwards-designed and aligned to assessments, how differentiated, how engaging, or how tech-rich your lessons are; as long as we are operating within the confines of this system, the scenarios above – and far, far worse – will continue to prevail. Salman Khan’s new book The One World Schoolhouse explains (among other things, as is par for the course for Khan) the aim of the Prussian model, developed in the 1760s, the one on which our own system was founded as follows:

“The Prussian philosopher and political theorist Johann Gottlieb Fichte, a key figure in the development of the system, was perfectly explicit in its aims. ’If you want to influence a person,’ he wrote, ‘you must do more than merely talk to him; you must fashion him, and fashion him in such a way that he simply cannot will otherwise than what you wish him to will.’” (76)

Wha?! But I got into education to change the world, one mind at a time, not to bend young people’s will to my own, the districts’, their parents’, or the government…

Exploring the disjoint between the current educational paradigm being used in the US and my own aims as an educator, lover of knowledge, and cognizant human being is the purpose of this blog. Unlike Fichte, I believe very strongly in the ability of language and carefully crafted arguments to influence others. Let me be clear: I am attempting to persuade you – whether you are an educator, employer, student, parent, or educationally-unaffiliated citizen – to advocate strongly, purposefully, and fearlessly for a new paradigm. I am advocating for a complete re-envisioning of how young people learn. I will suggest we do away with brick and mortar schools, that students set their own learning objectives and assess their own learning, and that learning and teaching happen continuously and in the “real world” our diction often suggests students do not participate in. I will advocate for opting out of purposeless assessments, for passive resistance of poor pedagogy whenever it is encountered, and for a cognizant and continual engagement in reflection that leads to action.

Did I scare you off yet? If not, I hope you will join me in exploring purposeful pedagogy as a way to challenge this paradigm and help reform the way learning occurs for our nation’s young people.

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5 thoughts on “A call to arms: Challenging the Prussian paradigm

  1. Teaching English in the Bronx

    I was looking for inspiration to keep me going and keep me innovating this year. Thank you. I will be coming back for more.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: What should a 21st Century school look like? A proposal for a public charter makerspace in Rochester, NY. | Fearlessly Flipping the Educational Paradigm

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