TED Conversations

Sarah Shewey

CEO/Founder, Happily


This conversation is closed.

How can we empower kids to reshape the education system? *A TEDActive Education Project Question*


The TEDActive Education Project will explore how children can make an impact on the education system. We hope to come out of this project with fresh ideas for ways kids can start an education revolution.

At TEDActive2011 in Palm Springs, an amazing group of individuals came together as a group to come up with a simple micro-action solution for empowering kids to be a part of the education reform conversations. After a quick 36 hour period of time, the team made a website that allows students to upload videos of their ideas on education reform.

You can empower a student to share their voice at http://elev8ed.org.

Also, please share your own ideas here, or by starting a new conversation tagged with TEDActiveEDU so we can all follow.

  • thumb
    Apr 5 2011: I apologize in advance for any faux pas or slip of the tongue I happen to make. I'm kind of fond of the idea of trade schools. Having one next to each public school, will give kids, those who don't like school or can't get the hang of it and don't want to be there, a fighting chance in the real world. If a town is centered around a few oil refineries, like my own, then set up a trade school that teaches students to be welders, pipe fitters, brick layers, and every other job the refineries have to offer. The trade schools would be optional; the students would have the choice between public school and trade school. In my opinion, this system would be incredibly effective in solving the drop out rate problem states are facing and the unemployment rate. If a student will never use the information they are learning in school, then why teach it to him? Why force feed information to those who have no need for it? Instead of the one track plan where a student spends countless hours having, to said student, useless information crammed down his throat, that same student could opt to spend his high school career at a trade school learning skills that would earn them a job right out of high school and truly ensure their future.
    • thumb
      Apr 5 2011: Do not apologize for a good idea, ever.

      A major fault of our present system is that we have all become completely focused on university entrance requirements. These are the cheapest courses to offer, so there's no big surprise why technical and vocational courses have disappeared.
      • thumb
        Apr 5 2011: Casen has a great point,

        indeed our education also doesn't educate us on alternative choices besides go to college.... The ability to work your way to a union right after high school is a great thing! Being an electrician, plumber, working for a DPW, etc etc. The people of my local DPW start off at 22 hourly, one of the jobs is to pick up leaves during the spring until after fall.. then they are a snowplower or street cleaner.
    • thumb
      Apr 9 2011: As an instructor at a technical college, I'm all for the idea of teaching people to be skilled craft-workers. But it's also fun in a kind of subversive way to help these students who "don't like school or can't get the hang of it" to open their minds to learning in ways they didn't think possible. Math and science comes alive when you get to see them both put to practical use!

      It's a shame that so many people destined for University do not even consider hands-on vocations because of an anti-intellectual perception. In America at least, vocational classes in high school have been a dumping ground for students with behavioral problems, and post-secondary vocational institutions often aren't seen as much better.
    • thumb
      Apr 12 2011: You are correct Casen, about offering more trade schools as I have been an advocate for these for years; but besides we need to base them on some of the European methods where students are tracked in elementary school (often times having the same teacher so he/she really gets to know the student) and then given the chance to be successful in a school set for their needs. In the UK some even get to graduate from a tech school at age 16 and can enter the work force.....BUT the problem now is that there are so few jobs due to outsourcing and just poor economies that it is becoming a big problem for these teens. But besides this, Germany did the same thing, however the students were paid as apprentices until age 18. And going BACK in time with me, when I was in high school in Chicago, we had the choice of going to a tech school for engineers and that ilk or another tech school for those who wanted "hands on" careers like a car mechanic; then a business school (but mainly for women to be secretaries at that time) and then finally a regular high school where I went; and I know times were different, but I can only remember two students in my whole class who dropped out. But with all of that said, besides this, we need to just TOTALLY revamp our educational system, so we will not all further behind....and get rid of standardized testing and NCLB for they are not helping as well as to teach our students (and their parents) to value learning, for that is not done in this country.
      • thumb
        Apr 17 2011: We have some great trade schools in Alberta, but somehow our culture has created a caste system based around education and time spent in school/college/university.
  • thumb
    Mar 28 2011: Believing that kids have some mystical wisdom to guide their own future is magical thinking. Allow me some free association: When I think about the GE-designed Japanese nuclear plants approaching catastrophe, I think about the dean of Hollywood screenwriters - William Goldman's famous quote, " Nobody knows anything".

    When I was a kid in school I didn't know anything. I don't think kids know much of anything today. Empower a kid to reform education? I'd rather give them the keys to the van and a bag of weed.
    • thumb
      Mar 28 2011: Hilarious Clay but, I disagree that even you knew nothing when you were a young person. Our youth are full of knowledge, they lack wisdom. I learn more from them than most adults walking around proselytizing in my community. What's that make me? Better yet, don't answer:)
      • thumb
        Mar 28 2011: As you might guess, I don't believe in giving young people false praise to boost their egos. What can any kid possibly know about life? They have zero perspective. Recently a young teen told me (with authentic confidence) that "The Dark Knight" was the greatest movie every made. I smiled. I don't think he has seen over 50 movies.

        But my skepticism gets worse. Not only do children know much but neither do their parents. Most Americans fail grade school tests. Ariana Huffington recently administered the citizenship entry test to adult Americans. Most failed. But poll after poll, survey after survey since the 'dumbing down of America' began a generation ago has delivered the bad news that gets badder every year. (sic)

        Our entire television and advertising industry is aimed at teens and adults with teen sensibilities. TV has dumbed down. Look, I don't know lots of things. I'm as ignorant as anybody. The older I get, the more I understand how much I don't know. But I can tell you the first name of the British Monarch and I can find Spain on a map; I can name the Secretary of State and can name the river that separates the Lone Star State from ol Mexico. Yes, I can pass grade school tests, so I guess that puts me in an elite league.

        Children self-directing their education? No way. No joke.
        • thumb
          Mar 28 2011: I'd agree with Clay's statement that kids should not self-direct their education. However, I do think that kids are capable, with guidance, to make insightful suggestions on how they can (and want to) learn. I wonder what those guiding principles could reasonably look like, and what would be the expected outcomes?
        • thumb
          Mar 28 2011: I see your logic Clay but, do not share it. End of debate?
        • thumb
          Apr 4 2011: Many of the innovators of the Technological Revolution are relatively young. Your statement that Americans are getting dumber is both false and demeaning. The number of technological innovations created by entrepreneurs 35 and younger is astounding. Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, created the social media site when he was 20 years old. Google, Twitter, Myspace, and Linked In were all created by entrepreneurs 35 and younger. Many of them formulated their ideas while studying and collaborating with other individuals. Young people are capable of selling and marketing a product to a diverse consumer base. And, without them, the Technological Revolution would never be where it is currently.
      • thumb
        Mar 29 2011: M.A., is there any way to measure the veracity of your statement, "I learn more from them than most adults waking around proselytizing in my community." ? Outcomes should be measurable if they are to serve any useful purpose.

        Do you believe that students (and many adults) understand the meaning of pure and practical knowledge?

        It would appear that the restructuring of education, as it is being discussed here, is that the only purposeful knowledge is practical knowledge. What needs to be known that can make a difference in my life at this moment or in the foreseeable future.

        It might be easier for young learners to appreciate how learning about or from social networks might impact their lives - making this learning interesting and important to them. It is another matter to justify the need for pure knowledge and why might this be beneficial.

        The practical application for this knowledge might come, or never come within a persons lifetime. Must we expect children to make huge leaps in logic and understanding as we deny them valuable knowledge and skills? This might not serve the vast majority of learners.

        Does this make pure knowledge interesting? Likely not for many. Would a young learner choose to eliminate this knowledge for his/her syllabus? Likely. Is pure knowledge important. Immensely.
        • thumb
          Mar 29 2011: Hi again Eric, I spend most of my sixteen hour work days with people under 18. You will have to take my word that I learn tremendous amounts from them. No need to quantify my personal experiences (beyond existing public data), what good will that serve anyone?

          Might you define "pure knowledge" please?

          Many adult attitudes in my town toward children encompass "seen not, heard" and "spare the rod, spoil the child" ideologies. Some of our public systems still practice corporal punishment (I worked in one). What might you suppose that mentality does for a child's curiosity?

          http://www.ted.com/conversations/145/celebrating_and_inspiring_curi.html and http://www.ted.com/conversations/1535/why_kids_lose_curiosity_in_the.html

          Not much has changed since this link from 2008. It might help you get the gist for the public educational environment I speak of. http://www.wsbtv.com/news/17323636/detail.html

          Based on my time with thousands of young people from marginalized communities throughout the Western hemisphere, I don't think they spend much time contemplating the semantics of the term knowledge. The curiosity of young people (if not stifled by the community) does however call them to inquire, reflect and discover while many adults think they know it all. See http://www.ted.com/conversations/1300/is_the_population_becoming_mor.html

          Our globe's most valuable resource is our children. If we fail to nurture their curiosity through our most effective (or, ineffective) social tool then... "the death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference and undernourishment." - Robert Maynard Hutchins
    • thumb
      Mar 29 2011: Clay, I hear you saying "kids can't guide themselves and no one else can guide them either". You stated "Believing that kids have some mystical wisdom to guide their own future is magical thinking" and "not only do children know much but neither do their parents" and quoted "nobody knows anything". That doesn't leave many people left with wisdom - mystical or not. As such, leaving it up to no one is tantamount to leaving it up to the kids themselves.

      I would rather provide a guided approach to letting them direct education than let them flounder (as they are doing in the current system). At some point, they need to take the reins anyway, why not guide them into that process?
      • thumb
        Mar 30 2011: Drew, I believe that fewer and fewer Americans are knowledgeable and that very few can be called wise. I don't think that one person in a thousand is wise. I think wisdom is very rare. Where would children get the wisdom or knowledge or experience to guide their own education?

        Let me illustrate. I have no background in math but I never knew how much I didn't know about math until I scrolled through Sal Khan's Academy list of math courses. I was astounded at the subcategories that I'd never heard of. I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't even recognize the categories of simple arithmetic, to boot. The point is, I didn't know what I didn't know. Neither do children.

        Most agree that we have a broken educational system, but let's not allow the blind to lead the blind, and make matters worse. At this point, doing nothing is better than self-directed learning. I'll summarize our educational problem in three words: School is boring.
        Crushingly boring. If you can fix that, you'll have something.
        • thumb
          Mar 30 2011: A lament educators oft express is that anyone who has ever been schooled believes they have achieved special insight in how the system should be structured.

          There is probably some truth in this.

          Schooling can be boring. The performance of any task we do could qualify for that label. For example, agriculture is a boring and tedious repetition of servile tasks. Farmers will rightfully challenge me on this assessment.

          Forgive my glibness on making this point but attempting to eliminate boredom, which is a human condition like say, happiness, would be something to behold. A formula that corporate executives of the world would dearly love to get their hands on. Imagine having all the labourers in a constant state of nirvana.

          Blissful intoxicated learning. Priceless.
        • thumb
          Mar 30 2011: Clay, I agree that school can be boring. This is where child-directed education kicks in. I agree "I didn't know what I didn't know", but the first problem is schools are too focused on WHAT to learn rather than why.

          Its important to find out what interests kids and make that the "why". You find out by making them free and encouraged to drive the process. Let them run in that direction and THEN show them how math, science, and language relate.

          If a kid enjoys baseball, get into the math of the stats and why stats matter. Talk about the physics of why the ball is made like it is. What would happen if the ball was heavier? This is guiding them. It is not having them teach math to themselves. Get them interested first, then guide them through what "they didn't know".

          Student-lead systems encourage interest. Traditional schools miss this key piece, which is why they are boring.
        • Ben B

          • 0
          Mar 31 2011: Clay, I have tried the Kahn Academy lessons too, I think it's a wonderfull initiative and even usefull for adults who want to brush up their skills, or learn new things.

          I didn't follow school in the USA, and the Belgian education system is quite different, but I have to agree on the 'school is boring' part.
          Where I disagree is that I don't think boredom is a bad thing. A lot of emphasis today is on keeping the kids 'entertained', providing them with stimuli from second to second. I think kids should be allowed to spend more time doing nothing. It is simply amazing what a kid can do with two standard lego-blocks if it's left to its own 'miserable imagination' for an hour, and sadening to see how (in Belgian schools at least), kids are reprimanded if they use toys in ways that are not apropriate (turning a wheelbarrow upside down to build 'a house', instead of wheeling it around like 'you're supposed to' for example). I think freedom is something that is very much needed. Discipline is also very much needed. Freedom and discipline are two things seemingly contradictory, but kids need a firm set of rules that form a framework in which they can freely explore. Kids need to be confronted with such rules, and parents and educators need to be adamant to enforce these rules. many schools don't have enough supervision, or methods to enforce rules, allowing things to escalate, and making guarding these rules more like repression than actually educating about boundries.
          Another problem in my country is the low esteem in which people hold educators. Teachers used to be 'the smartest person in the village'. Now, 'smart people' choose university degrees and don't end up in teaching apart from on a high acedemic level. Combined with the idea that 'all kids must be equal', this makes held back smart kids question not-so-smart decisions from their teachers. And talented pedagogues quickly suffer a mental breakdown having to confront bad teaching without support for good practices.
  • Apr 19 2011: Children should be inspired to teach; required to teach starting at a very young age; encouraged to teach throughout their lifetimes, the things that they have learned from our society and its schools. Students teaching students builds confidence and empathy with others at different stages of the learning process.
    • thumb
      Apr 20 2011: Agreed! The best way to learn is by teaching. Kids at all levels should be teaching lessons to the kids a year younger the material they just learned. The job of the teacher would change from being just a teacher to being a coach and guide.
      • thumb
        Apr 22 2011: Read this recent Harvard study on teaching and learning. For those not in the know, Harvard-based research is generally viewed as having moderate credibility within the academic community.


        Popular-held beliefs, without adequate inquiry into the veracity of said belief, will have consequences and can at times be damaging. However the broadcast of urban myths amongst the masses (all being brilliant, all of the time), is as remarkable as it is enduring.
        • thumb
          Apr 28 2011: I don't disagree with the evidence you present. I interpret the article to say, "Teaching students facts through lecture style statistically produces better standardized test results than problem-solving." I agree with that statement. However, you are begging the question on two important points.

          First, you are assuming standardized tests are the best way to measure the goals of education. I disagree. Ken Robinson per his book, The Element, would also disagree with that assumption. Incidentally, the creator of the IQ standardized test strongly disapproved of its use in the way it is being used. (http://iq-test.learninginfo.org/iq01.htm )

          Second, you are assuming problem-solving is not an important end goal. I would argue quite the opposite. Isn't problem-solving one of THE most important skills someone could possess? In this day and age, a good problem-solver can find any facts they need. (This wasn't true in the early 1900's when data was not so readily available and memorizing facts was an important part of intelligence.) Also, problem-solving skills are critical for life-long-learning; facts and data points are not. In accordance with Outliers, the best way to become good at something is lot's of practice (10,000 hours at least, if I recall). So, the best way to become a better problem-solver is to do more problem-solving.

          Maybe another way to read the study you presented is "studies show that students are not being taught well to do problem-solving and need to be spoon-fed their information."

          Come up with a test for problem-solving ability and then show me the statistics of lecture-learning versus problem-solving.
        • thumb
          Apr 29 2011: I don't disagree with the evidence you present. I interpret the article to say, "Teaching students facts through lecture style statistically produces better standardized test results than problem-solving." I agree with that statement. However, you are begging the question on two important points.

          First, you are assuming standardized tests are the best way to measure the goals of education. I disagree. Ken Robinson, per his book, The Element, would also disagree with that assumption. Incidentally, the creator of the IQ standardized test strongly disapproved of its use in the way it is being used.

          Second, you are assuming problem-solving is not an important end goal. I would argue quite the opposite. Isn't problem-solving one of the most important skills someone could possess? In this day and age, a good problem-solver can find any facts they need. (This wasn't true in the early 1900's when data was not so readily available and memorizing facts was an important part of intelligence.) Problem-solving is necessary for life-long learning; facts and data points are not. In accordance with the book Outliers, the best way to become good at something is lot's of practice (10,000 hours at least, if I recall). So, the best way to become a better problem-solver is to do more problem-solving.

          Develop a test for problem-solving ability and then show me the statistics of lecture learning versus problem-solving.
        • thumb
          Apr 29 2011: As toddlers need both to grow/develop (imitate+explore), so do primary school kids, so do adults. In order to solve problems, a series of other skills are needed which you can only get through other ways of learning.

          Some schools of thought say there are numerous mental skills to train, some come to a list of 30, some to 8. I belong for now to the '8' believers, as to get a grip on those is more than enough as a starter :) Problem Solving is one of them as a very conscious activity, though highly relying on equally important other mental skills.
      • thumb
        Apr 29 2011: What is being presented in this Harvard research is that the lecture method has a place. There is a thread of understanding here that views lecture-style teaching as a pariah.

        Problem-solving is another viable teaching methodology, and so on and so on. Let's not succumb to the wearing of blinders when it comes to learning and teaching.

        Speaking of blinders, the most oft referenced speaker on the topic here is Mr. Robinson. Does anyone know another's opinion on the subject? Or is he going to be our prophet? If so, sure hope he's right and what will we do once his views fall out of fashion? He too lives with a shelf-life.
        • thumb
          Apr 29 2011: I guess a lot of us are happy finally put's in good words our children are in trouble.

          All we need now is somebody to stand up and tell us which learning environment has least flaws to build upon.
        • thumb
          May 2 2011: Here is another person for you, Nicolas Carr. In his book The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains, he provides indications that the brains of people today, particularly youth, are different than brains of a century ago and even a decade ago. How much of the current research supports teaching to this new type of brain? Certainly is not texts from 1970 or 1980. What is education doing to address a different type of learner?

          Related to that point, I would argue that many forms of "research-proven" ideas have a shelf life as much as Ken Robinson.
      • thumb
        Apr 29 2011: You mean this is the first time some here have realized there are issues? Well, good for that, but this is not news. Now what usually happens is a frenzied debate which aims to find an immediate and lasting solution. The age of enlightenment begins yet again.

        This is often glibly referred to as seeking the "silver bullet" solution.

        Guess what? Calm down, it's not going to happen that way and that quickly. The evolution and revolution of education and educational trends has never ceased. Dare I say, "We didn't light the fire?" Sure, this is your time we're living here, but it doesn't mean everything meaningful happens within your life-time.

        I have over 70 years of educational research and writings on these very topics sitting on the shelves just to my right. Admittedly my research has been largely limited to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

        Interesting though how radio, then telephone and then television was going to revolutionize teaching and learning. Never before had students been so instantly and globally connected. Come to think of it, the Gutenberg printing press, circa 1450, had quite an impact on teaching and learning as well.

        How much time did you say we had?
        • thumb
          Apr 30 2011: I appreciate your effort in giving structural thought a lot, thank you for that.

          Ken Robinson is not the first, though he puts Facts + Society development over time + a sense of humor together in an empowering way. The facts were not new to me, though quoting him to 'financers' helps me to create space and time to spend time in looking for what 'organic education' might be.

          I have hope we find parts of the puzzle for next generation kids, as currently they are in trouble. Old school, new school, ipads or play doh, it's whatever for me as long the orchestra get's it's act together to challenge the minds of the future.

          I am pleased to read you have 70 years of research looking over your shoulders. Which of your writings should I read to have a little bit of a picture which methods over this time actually work(ed) well (and are affordable).

          A challenging idea;

          With the idea industrial revolution is 'over', so finance for it's educational system is 'over', (the hard facts we see in Dutch primary school cutbacks, it becomes impossible to keep a school running). So we should look at learning 'before' this time and learning by cultures who did not have the industrial public system.
          Though we also need insights in the best of this age, as we are not going to live in the jungle all together. Learning from different cultures might give us 'westies' insight in where we should go in 'growing' our children.

          Time... the optimist in me says 4 years, as my own kid will go to school than. Though as you said, it is an ongoing process.

          I guess I follow Larry Page from google his speech;"If enough people work on a certain problem, solutions will arise. The question is, are enough different people involved already to really improve education...
      • thumb
        Apr 30 2011: Paul, here are a few articulate authors of the subject of education, learning, teaching and change leadership:

        Michael Fullan
        Mary John O'Hair
        Sandra Odell
        Carl Glickman
        Theodore Kowalski
        Jo & Joseph Blase
        T. J. Sergiovanni
        Roland Barth
        Rebecca & Richard Dufour
        Robert Eaker
        Warren Bennis
        Bert Nanus
        James Kouzes
        Barry Posner
        William Glasser

        This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive reading list...just a fairly good beginning. Tell me, are you really committed to learning about this?

        Education funding is inadequate, however I do know that in total spending at the state/provincial level, education falls just behind health. These two budget expenditures account for over 70% of total available revenue.

        In one of Canada's coastal provinces (2010 Winter Olympics) we worked with a $4.65 billion operating budget for education and this was not nearly enough. This is Ministry information, but is not confidential. Otherwise, if I told you this, I would have to...... *joke*
        • thumb
          May 1 2011: Thanks for the list, great these are people 'google' normally does not find. And happy to see they are not just for the sake of understanding a challenge though also working hard to do something for real.

          Yes, I am really committed, what else is more important? There are many topics on this TED I read with enthousiasm and each time it boils down to me that the soil we raise our children on is poor and I don't see many people coming with possible solutions for the next 10-15 years.

          My current angle; Children have the right to learn, though what if the language of teaching can no longer be understood by it’s pupils? What right can you practice?

          In a way we can teach our kids to sue 'us' on humanitarian grounds :) Ofcourse, that would only be useful if 'a better alternative' would be kept away from them, and this is not the case. And there is the mystery which keeps me focused; almost all revolutions in history took place because some people in power kept us from an alternative. Currently we gaze in the dark as there is no vision on what could lies beyond tomorrow. Is it the China method to combine the best of accepted dictatorship and free market forces?


          On education budget spending, I don't know in Canada, though in the Netherlands if you do not each year spend more than you have you are cut-off the difference the year after. Spending exactly what you get looks like you spend all on purpose though you could have saved some. So there is always shortage in this system. A game which also needs improvement.

          I am currently in the 'trap' of academic research; how to deal with the amount of available information and prevent myself to come in 3 years with my own 20 lines summary conclusion. On the other hand, valorization of methods is needed because we can't throw a generation in an experiment, and after 8 years we tell them; "oops, the method didn't really work... sorry... have a nice life.."
        • thumb
          May 2 2011: To Paul's earlier point, not only how do we make education successful, but how do we do it in an affordable manner? You mention the money for education "was not nearly enough". I can tell you it won't get better. In other words, the ideas these experts may be great, but apparently, they are not affordable. So, what are ways to improve education in the real world where money is limited?

          Regarding the books, while I want to learn more, I admit I don't want to spend 70 years reading before I begin making a difference. Rather, I would like for someone who has read all the books AND understands the current environment to give me actionable tasks that I can do to help. It is people like Paul and me that can make it affordable, but the scholars have to give us actionable tasks AND be willing to take our assistance.
        • thumb
          May 2 2011: Does not every person who seriously starts developing educational material talk to people who know the research? And talk to publishers and to schools etc. And mostly believe in own conclusions, supported by people who know all research and start designing solutions. Though why do the methods often not work or are poor if at start everything looks so well thought through?

          All the fields involved in education methods (and that's a lot of specialities!) speak their own language on their own island.

          So collaboration and 'knowing' sounds nice in theory and EU r&d heavy invested in this last decade, though conclusion is, these initiatives a lot of times don't get to the promised results. As far as I can see, teams get stuck in a maze of misunderstandings, interpretations, different vocabulary meanings between disciplines, even among direct colleagues. The team of 'specialists' is so diverse, nobody really understands eachother and what is really needed for education development. This sounds extreme, but a lot of time is wasted everywhere on every (organization/government) level to try to understand the meaning of words in eachothers context/expertise.

          To cut a long story short, conclusion is what needs to be done is to create a common language among research specialists, design guru's, teachers and parents to communicate about 'growing' children. The basics. Actually writing down in 'Elmo language' essence of learning+thinking skills+educational challenges. The story which comes up should be understandable by 9 year olds and 99 year olds. After that period, we can start throwing in our field/research/design/business specific thoughts again.

          This 'elmo language' method has it's roots in transition management, and when applied well, the 3 c's communication, collaboration and continuity starts of on a much higher level.
    • thumb
      Apr 30 2011: Go a step deeper, Creola - break out of the age box entirely. Have the students who are better at a particular thing teach someone who is struggling, and help the "teacher" with different ways of teaching. The tables will inevitably be turned in one way or another as the "struggling" student progresses in that or other areas and the "teaching" student has their own struggles. Now you're teaching more than just "math", you're teaching psychology, group dynamics, interpersonal skills, building confidence, combating "age = wisdom" myths, oh and also reinforcing the "math" understanding of the "teacher" as they work through different ways of understanding the information than just the one that worked for them.
  • Apr 20 2011: Our entire education system is based on text. Text has been the standard for codifying knowledge for millennia. We now have alternatives for recording and transferring knowledge. The human brain does not deal exclusively with text, not even optimally with it.

    A great gauge of the effectiveness of an educational method is the level of engagement by students, i.e., how interested or even excited they are to learn. We have the means to make education much more interesting, relevant, and effective.

    I have no sympathy for the old-school mentality that believes that there is no progress without educational pain. Those who think that empowering our kids to reshape education is a dangerous idea have no evidence for that view. We run our primary and secondary schools as totalitarian institutions in which students have no rights. After 12 or more years of indoctrination that they are subordinate, dependent, and mostly wrong, and we expect them to participate in a democracy. If that's not hypocritical, I don't know what is.
    • thumb
      Apr 24 2011: I have no sympathy for this system either.

      With the decline of the industrial revolution...

      I think that every industry will be affected and weakened.

      Whatever kind of education is an industry and should be replaced or at least reshaped.

      It's before this 12-year long brainwashing process that action must be taken.

      We may have knowledge, but kids have creativity and hunger to learn...
      • thumb
        Apr 24 2011: You are right, the present system is not adequate. Universities state that a large number of their present students are unfit and unqualified to be there. So why do they accept them? Cuts to research budgets can be covered via student tuition. Simple and sad reflection on society.

        Academic rigor is being severely compromised to address the grossly inflated grades of our school system students. A degree is becoming near worthless as a result, however the number of degrees granted has risen sharply. Technical/vocational/trade institution admission departments reject university graduate applications as they do not meet entrance standards for their non-degree programs.

        We have a growing number of disillusioned young people who, after 12 years of being told they are bright, suddenly discover they are indeed not. This is an unnecessary, unkind and entirely too costly a lesson to be learned at this point in their lives.
    • thumb
      Apr 24 2011: If you're talking democracy as we have known it, then the schooling system from last century works perfectly.

      Being wrong is one half (conservative estimate) of taking risks.

      It's not a dangerous idea to empower kids but to imagine that kids don't need guidance in their learning is possibly a dangerous idea (for the wellbeing of the individual student/child).

      Agreed that student engagement is the only thing that is really worth measuring but an idea, activity, or skill consolidation doesn't have to be 'interesting' to be worthwhile.

      My nana says that hardship is good character building. I disagree with the 'another brick in the wall" approach to teaching and learning but sometimes, you have to do stuff that doesn't engage you and often, it requires a 'push' from someone else. That ain't a bad thing.
  • thumb
    Apr 19 2011: The cookie cutter educational curriculum must be abolished in favor of unorthodox, creativity inspiring programs. An immersion into nature, lessons in spiritual principles and a deeper view of worthy history.

    Child like qualities are the foremost innocent and attractive qualities in the human spirit. Separation is a common problem and acceptance of diversity should be taught and practiced. Challenge Day is a terrific program that could be rendered unnecessary if the educators can get it right from the beginning. If children are taught from an early age that they can make a difference in the world they live in with simple actions, their inspiration will increase. If they are encouraged to follow their bliss instead of discouraging against what they strive for, development will be more astute.
    • Apr 20 2011: I completely agree. In fact, I am leaving my job at the end of this school year (I teach 9th grade world history and have taught for more than a decade) to plan a middle school where students can take charge of their own learning. See http://trianglearning.org

      As comments below reflect, though, students should not be left to their own devices. They need to be mentored. However, I also agree that students should be respected far more than the industrial-age school curricula currently respects students.

      The idea for my school is to mentor students for 6th and 7th grade to give them skills and confidence so that they can direct their own learning in 8th grade to follow their passion and make a difference in the world.

      I'm also shocked at how little students today follow the news (Egypt was simply not part of the curriculum), so that will be a key part of the daily routine. Students also need to appreciate that math is everywhere (economics, science, statistics, etc.) and need to learn as much math as possible.

      If this sounds interesting, please contact me. My contact information is on my TED profile.
  • thumb
    Apr 12 2011: Allowing kids to take ownership and practice self reliant behaviors is perhaps the first step engaging learners....Is the next step co-creating a curriculum?
    • thumb
      Apr 13 2011: Yes,i strongly believe it is.
      You can't teach an old dog new tricks,but you can teach old tricks to a young dog.
    • Apr 14 2011: Yes! As a high school senior, I can attest to this--education has to be more personalized, and kids should feel like they're investing in their education rather than working through a dictat.

      It is absolutely imperative to begin this process at a young age. From my experience of going through the public school system in Canada, kids are naturally creative, innovative, and curious people--if anything, I think the emphasis should be on developing a method that can teach children 'the necessities' while still allowing a great deal of space for children to pursue their interests. This reminds me of the Montessori system, which purportedly has generated good results in kids and youth who have attended the program.

      The focus on totally linear academic learning in most public schools has generated quite a few ridiculous circumstances in my personal past. The fact that children are assessed on how 'creative' an art project is or how neatly they've coloured within the lines should definitely be raising eyebrows! Kids are taught from the very beginning that there is only one right, linear way to do things and to not even consider other approaches to problems. If this is how the system works, where rote, monotonous learning is continually perpetuated and creative learning/teaching is almost non-existent, it is unsurprising that the apathy rate in students is so high.

      Kids fundamentally want to be engaged and in charge of their work! The prevalent education-in-a-box paradigm, however, has to be changed in order for that to happen. Learning should be a co-operative process that emphasizes creative development equally, if not more so, as much as the academic subjects.
  • Apr 11 2011: I teach middle school math and science. Basic ways to empower students and take a see-for-yourself approach:
    1. Create a blog via kidblog.org (closed and protected system). The teacher poses the question. The students then comment on the question. Students begin to observe each other's comments, reflect, and then comment a revised or even new answer. It is evident that after reading each other's thoughts, their own thoughts become "deeper" and more reflective. Thats an amplifier.

    2. Give students a topic and break them into groups of 3-4. Tell them to go find the most important points about that topic and ask them to share their findings via a wiki build-out on wikispaces.com. RESIST the urge to go in and direct too much. Let them create. THEN, come back as a large group and review what they have put together. Have groups professionally critique each other. Have them observe. THEN, do it again with a different topic. Watch how the second build-out is amplified...increasing quality, increasing effort, overall increased performance.

    MY POINT IS THIS: Old-school/industrial educated people like me do not believe this stuff until they see it for themselves. ALSO, stop trying to progress ALL students at the same pace......some will excel...some will slack and ride on coat tails.....thats the way our world currently works. HOWEVER, those students you felt were slackers more often than not impress the hell out of you. Be bold, Break rules, Don't spend too much time trying to convince skeptics. They are now called baggage.
    • thumb
      Apr 12 2011: Well said, Scott! It's amazing what students can and will do when you stop lecturing to them and place them into active-thinking scenarios.
  • thumb
    Apr 9 2011: If you want students to have a positive voice in education, they must also have a realistic perspective of the value of education. Asking students to help reform education when they do not yet have a firm grasp on how their education can, will, or should empower their lives as adults is unlikely to yield much benefit.

    However . . . structuring education in ways that place young students in age-appropriate roles of responsibility, where success and failure is more than just a letter-mark on paper but has real, tangible consequences, would go a long way toward educating them for life.

    A model that immediately comes to mind is that of a child growing up on a farm, where they are given responsibility for doing important tasks, among them caring for living things. Something as simple as this is a tremendous learning experience for a young person. Managing real money at a young age is another model for helping children gain perspective and value the importance of subjects such as math.
    • thumb
      Apr 17 2011: I agree with you Tony. In my view our failure to involve our children and youth in authentic and meaningful responsibilities is the underlying problem. To solve this we give them all sorts of courses to try to replace that involvement. This adds years and years to their "education", without connecting them to the environment where they will put their knowledge and skills to use. Because they are not allowed to participate in a meaningful way they find what we want them to learn meaningless, and many just slough it off and find their own way. This situation continues right through university - if the post secondary schools keep adding courses to what students have to learn to graduate, pretty soon our graduates will be senior citizens before they are put to work.
  • thumb
    Mar 24 2011: Like the elev8ed.org project highlights we must create spaces and processes in which children are able to contribute and develop the skills to lead their own learning. Empowerment can happen at home, at school, and on larger scales. But most importantly, children need to see close effects of their voices. If I child uploads a video and says, "if it were up to me, learning would happen like _____" and all that happens is the child now has a video on youtube, over time, hope for change and good intentions will not be enough.

    There have to be physical spaces and processes that the child is involved in, on a daily basis, where they are heard, respected, and wisely guided by caring adults. There are models out there already, adults just keep getting in the way.
  • thumb
    Mar 24 2011: Sarah,
    I fell upon TEDActive2011 site yesterday. There is much potential there. Lots of great ideas (social networking/education/microaction)!

    The young people within my organization look forward to this challenge.

    It will be amazing to witness the young take ownership of this learning revolution!
  • thumb
    May 11 2011: The multiplicity of ideas on this question demonstrates why education in America continues its slow descent into chaos. Is there any single point above upon which all are agreed? I didn't catch it if there is. I've gone round and round countless times in debates over school reform.

    I will venture a statement that I feel is totally defensible. And may I be so bold to suggest that if you don't agree with this statement, you just haven't thought it through:

    "Education will never become the central function of our school system until we do away with grades and grade levels."
  • thumb
    Apr 21 2011: We need to embed student voice into how we make education decisions--educational service districts, school boards, lobbying organizations. For a start, why aren't there more students responding to this question? :) I often find myself being the only person under 25 at many of the education conferences which I attend. We need to start asking students about questions like project-based learning, balance of old-school vs. "new-school" methods, etc., instead of just presenting viewpoints saying "This is best for students" without getting any input from students themselves.

    I really appreciate what the education ministry of Ontario is doing with student voice through its Speakup project: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/students/speakup/index.html --getting young people to actually contribute their ideas and feedback to the officials in charge. More and more organizations are becoming aware of the importance of student voice. I was lucky enough to write a blog for the Huffington Post on some large and small steps I think schools should take: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adora-svitak/changes-schools-should-ma_b_829406.html

    Social networking--Facebook especially--can provide an excellent way to gauge opinions on new changes and proposed ideas. Asking quick short questions, for instance, and getting responses. A lot of my peers aren't on Twitter, but definitely love Facebook.

    It starts with simple questions: what would you change about your school? What are you interested in learning? How do you learn best? If you were the teacher/principal/Secretary of Education, what steps would you take? At the all-youth organized and attended TEDxRedmond conference, which I'm organizing for the second time this year, we hear from speakers who are all under 18 about their opinions on a range of diverse issues like these (and others). Through mediums like TED Conversations, TEDx conferences, and school governance boards, I hope to see more students getting involved in education change.
    • Apr 21 2011: Hi Adora. I wonder if students are as conscious of the education process as you are. They will only recommend cosmetic changes to the schooling system, which will not bring about any substantial change and not deal with the pathologies that beset this system. Being a teacher I gave my students many alternative ideas, but only a handful responded. Others only thought about cosmetic changes to the schooling system. Like it or not, most of humanity conforms. Just because something is there, they feel inclined to consider it legitimate, and any changes to that order of things brings about anxiety.
      There is a great book by Eric Fromm which talks about this: Fear of Freedom.
      • May 6 2011: True, true as a high school teacher I see this too. Perhaps students would first think of cosmetic changes to the educational system, ones that they could easily discuss without risk of adult censure or peer embarassment. If there was a permanent virtual or physical "suggestion box" I bet that the average intensity of student suggestions would increase. A common class president platform is changing the length of the lunch period, however, students have a hyper sense of fairness and very strong feelings on a variety of subjects. Like most behaviors, learning to speak up and provide input is one that will need encouragement and which may even have to be taught explicitly
      • May 6 2011: I am a current student in the Dutch schooling system, although currently in my last year and almost finished. Three years ago I started doing research on the topic of education, because I felt like the way our educational system worked was wrong.
        Now I realize that there aren't many students that know and are capable of participating in that discussion with sufficient background knowledge, but I also know that they do exist. I have heard so many times that I cannot, may not and should not try to participate in debates on topics like these because of my age. In the meantime I see students around me that are suffering, literally suffering under the influence of bad education, including myself. I love to learn, but I have spend the last 6 years of my life working really hard to learn so little. I know that would I have been allowed to create my own way of educating 'me', I would have been capable of learning a lot more, both factual knowledge and 'skills'. School is not 'too hard', it's just not capable of challenging students. It frustrates me that I do not have enough time to learn as much as I could and want to because of school, the institution that should be learning me stuff. If I could, I would do anything to change the system. Not just make amends, 'cosmetic changes', but really change something, change the core. But if I am not allowed or if people do not want me to participate in the discussion, it becomes very hard for me to either try to make changes or even learn more about the subject.
        To answer your question: yes, these students do exist. So before you exclude them from the debate, reconsider your premise that they do not want to. Maybe you ust need to find a way to interest them, to show them that they can make a change, that their opinion is actually valued, in contrary to what they get told or shown in schools everyday!
    • thumb
      Apr 21 2011: Maybe more students aren't responding to this question because it's not being asked in a place where more students will see it. TED's great, but I think you're the exception to the TEDster rule, Adora. Most people having this conversation are out of school, or at least out of high school. If you want student engagement, then the conversation needs to be brought to the students - not just the ones we think will agree, but students who've never been given the opportunity to think about it before.

      I also think that as long as we continue to talk about "reforming the *education system*" instead of looking at new ways to understand the *learning process," nothing is going to change. The problem with the education system is just that - it's a "system." We don't learn in systems. We learn from practice, from experiences, from one another.
      • May 8 2011: And there in a nutshell is the answer, thanks Theresa :)
        I believe that allowing young people to participate in their own platform where they can exchange their own ideas will foster 'crowd induced innovation' of these ideas whatever the area of interest being discussed in a group. In an online scenario like this the cream will rise and support will garner around certain notions of percieved fairness, improvement and so on. The problem so often seems to be that education fails to educate and students have no voice, still labouring under the victorian era's ageistic perception that 'children should be seen and not heard'.
        Young minds, as older minds, order information as a basic function. The information comes from the outside and so to expect them to have opinions that resonate with our informed and lofty ideas is somewhat short sighted. we need to value the contribution as it is made, making an effort to translate it into our own terms.
        As for 'new ways to understand the learning process'...just how many ideas about education do we need before implementration of what is blazingly obvious. Children at home playing computer games are not stimulated by current modes of education. The teacher must become the conduit of information, not the source, and children should be educated through those means by which they percieve the world. Sticking to the intellect as the primary focus of education is ridiculable.
        I remember when I finally learned how to learn in an event where it suddenly became clear to me (autodidactically) that I could create something, picture an outcome and work towards it, this was an actual experience of creativity without being told to create. How the education system had failed after 17 years in teaching me this I am at a loss to explain. More likely the case is closer to Ken Robinson's assertion that we have this creativity naturally but are educated out of it.
        We also need community integration as part of education...
  • thumb
    Apr 20 2011: The following parent organization (see link) collects and distributes information concerning quality education. These are parents and some now grand-parents of children who have had a difficult time in school. It would appear they have a number of credible organizations listed as patrons.


    This parent group (SQE) now rejects the child-centered approach to education. Read some of the research on this to find out the reasons why they see this "fad" (their term) as a failure.

    Here is a book available from the SQE library," Doomed to Fail: The Built-In Defects of American Education" by Paul A. Zoch (Houston, TX teacher). Executive Summary: This book zeroes in on an aspect of child-centred learning that may not have occurred to many people. Because the child-centred philosophy calls for learning to be easy and fun, students are freed from the need to work hard to meet high standards. In child-centred classrooms, the primary responsibility for learning falls on teachers, not on students. In some cases, the teachers work harder for the students' success than the students themselves do.

    SQE even suggests that parents either withdraw their child from the public schools that practice the child-centered approach or that parents offset this exposure from as early an age as possible through other privately operated learning institutions. Such institutions are Oxford Learning or Kumon to mention only two.

    Their reasons?

    These private learning institutions utilize something that is now absent from public schools called direct instruction (traditional).

    Fascinating stuff.

    There is also a critical look at how universities are failing us and why students in programs for the past 25 years (coincidently coincides with child-centered learning) are just not up to standard. Some of these substandard grads, the professors (authors) claim, are now teachers. Ouch!
  • thumb
    Apr 20 2011: How many of you have or live close to a toddler of 1-2-3 years old with full iPad access? I have a toddler of 2, and he is bored of 20 pieces puzzle games, angry birds, memory, the smurfs, and many other aim and click apps. I dig in the app store, though don't find anything worth getting for him.

    The question is; can we as adults/designers live up to their eager of learning through play or we stand in the myst soon when the kids realize we didn't design interesting/'good' learning 'toys' for them.

    Therefore, as young adults, we should (1) start listening very carefully to their 'dreams' (2) collect them and start making the tools (digital or real) to help them live their dreams. Anybody doing this already?
    • Comment deleted

      • thumb
        Apr 26 2011: Thanks Mark, it's fun to discover the 'global village' on a theme is existing through English language. And to 'spread' a little humble idea between heroic tedsters. Though to follow up, where to start... I guess figuring out a way to connect parents with same worries and surely there must be people among them designing professionally iPad apps and physical learning 'tools' like Annmarie Thomas and http://www.ted.com/talks/gever_tulley_s_tinkering_school_in_action.html?c=80237 .
  • Apr 8 2011: kids already have too much power but not the accountability that goes with it - empowering them to reshape the education system is like asking them what they want to eat........
    Some how an overdose of 'chocolate' based edcuation does not feel like a good idea......
    • thumb
      Apr 8 2011: Denying children guidance and direction in something as important as this would be comparable to neglect and abuse. Hopefully no one is advocating children have authority in decision-making.

      We don't allow children to vote. Now, why is that?
      • thumb

        Tao P 50+

        • +1
        Apr 10 2011: I like your thinking Mercer, lets get over our ageist ways. Give children the respect you hope they will grow to earn instead of ridiculing them.

        I think we can vastly improve education by giving children more choice in what they want to learn. A child who loves horses is much more likely to enjoy reading books on horses.
        We should also get rid of almost all tests and quizzes. I feel there is far too much judgment of children in schools today.

        @Andrew: Young children know, when given a choice, of how much and what kinds of food they require. It is only after years of being told to 'finish your plate' 'eat this as it's good for you' and refined sugar addiction that they lose this ability.
        • thumb
          Apr 16 2011: Really Mark, we're now resorting to idiomatic expressions? How refreshingly original. Are you suggesting that we have the blind lead the blind? That we walk a mile in someone's shoes?

          Sorry, really don't want to put you between a rock and a hard place.
        • thumb
          Apr 17 2011: OK, fair enough.

          Does something need to change? Absolutely. But it's complicated.

          Question: Know what's being demanded by a large and growing number of parents in Canada? Parents who will line up for days in order to enroll their child in this particular type of school? Parents who will daily drive their child across and into town in order that they may attend these schools?

          Answer: Traditional Schools. Schools that focus on the 3 Rs, where students dutifully read, write and do arithmetic. Where the teacher lectures and gives homework. We have countless requests to open more of these schools. We cannot meet the demand.

          How odd is that?

          It's not that something needs to change. Everything needs to change, all the time. Now we find if only we had not been so diligent in dismantling and reorganizing schools, we could have saved a ton of money and been on the cutting edge of learning. Well, at least what the public believes anyway.

          Who knew?

          Background: Canada is rapidly transforming into a country of non-European stock. With this comes a change in how things are and will be run. People of European descent in Canada must acknowledge and accept that things won't always be done exactly how they want it. Including how we educate our children.

          Someone always finds change harder. Particularly ones who sense they are losing or in danger of falling behind.
    • Apr 9 2011: I really don't see the problem with empowering children to reshape the system as long as there is guidance. It is wrong to ask a kid what to eat only of they do not know what is good for them to eat.
      • thumb
        Apr 9 2011: The entire system is already under the control of non-professionals.

        There are state and/or provincial politicians leading the way who feel unfortunate to be handed the education portfolio. Add to this layers of junior starter politicians at the district board and local board levels who bring their own agendas that are not pedagogically sound.

        This makes for some very interesting dynamics indeed. Messes always have to be cleaned up after their play at teaching party is over and before the next tour bus arrives. Adding children to the equation should prove interesting.

        The perception that meeting the educational needs and demands of society is simple and can be done from an armchair and the "Hey, how could it possibly be any worse" attitude displays arrogance; is dangerous and insulting.

        But you know, you are right, it would be better to have uninformed children rather than ignorant adults involved. Learning really cannot afford both.
        • thumb
          Apr 10 2011: Given your comments, I would appreciate any feedback to what a non-professional CAN do to help. http://www.ted.com/conversations/1596/how_can_an_outsider_help_imp.html
        • Apr 15 2011: "The entire system is already under the control of non-professionals."
          Funny from what I've seen from most Home Schooled children, I'd say the "professionals" are the problem. A 1997 study showed that "Home school children... out-performed their counterparts in the public schools by 30 to 37 percentile points in all subjects" And now, in 2010, "The average home schooled 8th grade student performs four grade levels above the national average." Home Schooling parents don't require a degree, they are "non-professions" and their solutions are more kitchen chair than armchair. Perhaps we should begin really looking at these bright spots, of the freedoms these children have.

          Odd when I talk to the "professionals" about the fact we are considering homeschooling our child, the response we always get is negative. "They won't get the same education," and "they'll be less socialized" despite none of them offering statical evidence of the supposed effects.

          We do lots of stats on children's performance, and measure school, state and countries performance; but, I have never seen a letters sent to the parents showing what a given teacher's graduation rate is, or how their students truly perform at real world skills.

          "[I]t would be better to have uninformed children rather than ignorant adults involved."
          Yes, it would be. Fire ineffective teachers; but you can't the union won't let you. Moreover, my political views and basic belief structure (except religious beliefs) has remained mostly the same since I was about 12 or 14, I won't say I've made all the right choices since then, Lord knows I haven't, but I was more politically aware about current events at 14 than most adults. We see cases like Sirena Huang, a talented articulate 11-year old and we think they are the exception, yes her musical talent makes her an outlier; but, maybe she isn't as rare as we think. Maybe we are stripping children of their potential by an outdated educational model.
        • Apr 26 2011: Yes, home schooled children do very well. It's called one-on-one. Give me one student all day, and I will create the stats you suggest. Give me a classroom of 30 - 40, throw in a few behaviorally challenged kiddos, and the class takes a spiral. Let me know how you would like to select the ineffective teachers--by using standardized tests? Please don't hold the teacher accountable for a score on a standardized test when the students have no accountability regarding his/her performance. I agree that we are stripping the children's potential in areas like music. No money equals no music, art, etc. I can tell what people in this country really think about the children's education--follow the money. We continue to cut back funds for our children's education. If we truly thought our children were important, we'd be "putting our money where our mouth is." I really don't like talking about teaching with people who aren't teachers. I don't understand how someone who hasn't been trained to teach and has no idea what it's like in a contemporary classroom has the thought that he/she knows what to do to fix education.
        • thumb
          May 9 2011: Witness the concerted effort by the Minister of Education to (please excuse my passionate use of the vernacular) piss all over a world-class education system (little old New Zealand).

          Despite the fact that many countries are now looking for alternatives to standardised assessment, Anne Tolley (minister of education) has enforced a return to it for all NZ schools.

          She is unqualified in all the wrong places.
      • thumb
        Apr 15 2011: Part of my responsibility is to evaluate and approve home schooled programs. If parents wish their child to receive course credits, the program must be approved by a school district.

        Of the 180 home schooled programs registered with me, I'd agree that about 1/3 of them are of very good to high quality. I would place my own children into these programs. About 2/3 are below average to awful.

        I am interested in where you gained access to this quantifiable student assessment data. Is this data from a reliable source?
    • Apr 14 2011: That's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy don't you think? An initial step would be to avoid talking down to kids. After all, if you treat them as if they're irresponsible, they will almost inevitably turn out that way. You mention than children do not know what is good for them, but perhaps it's the adults who have forgotten what education truly should embody. Kids want to be intellectually stimulated in an interesting way. However, much of school work is mechanical...you can hardly expect children to have a love of learning if they've already been exposed to years of the grind.
      • thumb
        Apr 15 2011: Most of these (both Bryan's and Sheway's) arguments hinge on the presumption that children can be reasoned with. This is, in fact, an epidemic that has also invaded modern parenting. "Ask the kids what they want and give it to them. How could they be wrong?"

        Kids aren't reasonable. Biologically, emotionally, and cognitively they are not mature enough to make rational decisions. Using the chocolate analogy, no child would eat all chocolate forever, but they WOULD just eat what they want and when they want to. They have no impulse control. Even when they DO reach a stage of cognitive maturity, they don't just automatically know what is best for education. It needs to be studied and looked at through many different lenses which can take a person well beyond their 40's to even begin to understand what needs to be done. There are adults right now who don't know what's best for education they just say they do because every other adult has ideas so why shouldn't they.

        The issue is two sided: You can't ask the children because they will want what is best for them at the time instead of in the long run and you can't ask the adults because they either 1) Are business men who already run the school like a business instead of an educational institution or 2) Don't have the slightest idea of how children learn and what kind of techniques can jive with that.

        I'm not saying I personally have the answers, but I'm also saying that kids are the wrong people to ask on this subject. Proper course of action at this point would be to wait until America gets politicians that don't lobby but care, then sit a group of intuitive and far-minded educators in a room and have a debate to restructure the whole thing. Think Plato's "Republic," but for education instead of government.
        • thumb
          Apr 15 2011: Respectively, there are people here who have no idea what a child is capable of expressing, in terms of thought, reasoning and problem-solving. How could they? For your consideration, the logical, abstract stage does not begin to arrive until at least the teen years. This ability is known as the Formal Operational Stage.

          A great many children experience delayed development for a great number of reasons. I would not normally use the term 'delayed' as every child develops at their own rate, but I will allow its use in order to clarify matters in the simplest of terms. They continue to exist in the trial and error (concrete) environment and never fully reach the formal operational stage until well into their twenties.

          What you will find is expressions and opinions acquired via rote learning, probably from parents and older siblings. Children are not able to develop their own critiques, other than common likes and dislikes pertaining to their own comforts. The child's world and interest is geared to the immediate and personal. The broader, larger, abstract world of learning, with all its interlinked relationships, begins to emerge later.

          Students will express frustration and say "Why are we learning this stuff?" as they cannot yet 'connect the dots' on these more complex, abstract relationships and concepts. Some adults are unable to ever understand these.

          So, this formal operational stage begins at approximately age twelve and lasts into adulthood. During this time, people develop the ability to think about abstract concepts. Skills such as logical thought, deductive reasoning, and systematic planning also begin to emerge during this stage. The C & I learning experience (Curriculum & Instruction) is tailored and designed to account for these various levels of cognition.

          Bantering about lofty ideals is all well and fun but seriously thinking about having children direct their own learning speaks more to indulgence than logic.
    • thumb
      Apr 14 2011: I think you do children a Dis-Service. It is Naive to think that all children do not understand the benefits of a good education.
      Not all children want 'Chocolate'
    • thumb
      Apr 27 2011: Certainly not. Ask me what I want to eat and my response will be a healthy, low-sodium penne al-arrabitatta with a nice helping of broccoli...and maybe a small scoop of low-fat ice cream afterward. And that's my approach to education as well. There are plenty of kids out there whose responses to "How do we fix education?" will NOT be "Go on vacation forever!" I wrote a blog on the Huffington Post about a few ideas to change education, and I think most people can agree that they were measured and reasonable.
  • Apr 5 2011: The first step to empowering students will be to stop belittling them and assuring them that they are incapable of affecting the society around them. Prejudice against anyone under a certain age is extreme and found in all aspects of any society I am aware of, often needlessly, and this reflects in the attitudes of individual persons. Children are to be smiled at and entertained but not taken seriously or thought about as rational human beings. Whilst it may be true that they are on the whole immature and most things they say really aren't to be taken seriously the prejudice extends to an unspoken 'adults are better than children and children should not speak their mind for it is never anything of importance' which stifles any chance of empowerment in kids.
  • thumb
    Apr 1 2011: Creating a learning environment that includes input/feedback from the student is basic to an effective educational system. How that happens is all in the "details".

    I can't pinpoint the exact quote, but it says something like, "the less you know about a subject, the more freedom you have to think outside the box".

    Another thought is that learning by trial and error (exploratory learning) can produce the most powerful learning. Children are natural explorers; we (teachers) their guides.

    Then there's the well-worn quote of Einstein's: "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

    All of these perspectives point to the fact that the student should play an active part in the discovery of a better educational system
  • thumb
    Apr 1 2011: Very little of this discussion touches on fact that teaching strategies differ for each developmental stage.

    Some of my own rules for teaching:
    1. Each developmental stage has it's own set of unique characteristics that come into play when developing strategies for teaching/learning.
    1. No one stage is more important than another
    3. During early childhood, it's the children who "drive" the learning through guided play and emergent skills-based learning.
    4. Mentoring is more powerful that "teaching".
    • Apr 4 2011: My belief is that preschool montessori is great and that by 2nd or 3rd grade, children want to know the rules. They want to get it right.. so it's a prefect time for a classical approach where we lay down the foundation skills. By middle school, social development is the developmental focus and group work and interactive learning becomes more important. By high school, we need to tear down what we've taught and re-see the world. Much like Foundation Year in art school, the structures we've established so that the young mind can understand and coordinate ideas and skills need to be reconsidered, rethought or thrown away for a time so that the mind learns to consider new ideas and structures.
  • Mar 31 2011: Love the talk and debate around this issue right now. I believe that our education system is in need of huge reform, I like the idea of a student centric approach I think that we face two issues, what we are teaching and how we are teaching, with saying that :) I don't know if the best way to get the best changes is to just simply ask.

    I think that you don't know what you don't know. I am almost positive if you were to look back 20 years and ask kids how they would like their music, they could tell you I want to carry it in my hand but they could not tell you that they wanted to have a device the size of their hands that could hold 300 digital downloads. Most suggestions come from what you know and in most cases all human ( kids or adults) could never have asked for some of the most revolutionary products we use today.

    I think its great to ask but the best way in my mind to work with kids/teachers to reform our school system is to sit back, track behavior, watch what currently happens in the school system and outside of that system to bring new innovations and ideas into play.

    For myself, I think that youth today have a very different world than 20 years ago. It would be crazy to think that nothing should change. We are an information rich society we can google any topic and have 12 pages of information around any topic, comments and conversation from peers, experts and people in other environmens or countries. Our problem is not information knowledge that we lack. Our problem is how do we take alt his information and do something with it, put it into action.
    • thumb
      Mar 31 2011: Romantic notions of students really does not help move the cause of education forward. Twenty years ago students were in a different world and 20 years before that and so on. It is interesting to read articles of parental concerns over their children and how radically different their world was when compared to when the parents were young.

      The era was the 1920s.

      The Greeks of the Peloponnesian era commented on their youth and how they couldn't motivate them to learn.

      Go to the ASCD.org website and you can read the archived issues and see the list of educational highlights and concerns for the past 60 years. You may be surprised.

      Twenty years ago we undertook radical reform of the educational system. The drop-out rate was very much higher than it is today. Bullying was rampant and no uniform attempts to address the issue was available. Females were under-performing in all courses and the male:female teaching force was 1:1. Universities were largely still a male domain; curriculum was stagnant and standardized government testing was mandated for all students in nearly all subjects. Students who under-performed were simply failed. Teachers could still gain contracts without having completed a degree program.

      Change was implemented and now...indicators show that the drop-out rate has been significantly decreased; the incidence of bullying has decreased (but still needs attention); females outperform males in all subjects at all levels and the teaching force is now approaching 80% female. Every teacher must have at least an undergraduate degree and many have completed post-graduate programs, and the university population split across all programs is about 60% female. In education programs it is reaching 75% female. Early-learning initiatives are readily available and curriculum has reverted to resource-based and off-set by online and distance learning...

      Change marches on.
      • Mar 31 2011: Agreed I think that the basic concerns for any parent at any point in history would always be very similar.

        When we look at why most people believe that education is important, it comes down to the fact that people believe education= access to a better way of life. Who is to say that our current system is the best possible way this outcome is achieved? In truth their are more highly educated unemployed people than ever in our world today.

        When I say that young people have a different world and that it would be crazy to believe that our systems should not change to meet the new challenges, I am not saying that parents concerns are different.

        A good example of what I mean is this, child safety has always and will always be of concern for any parent from any decade. But if we never made changes based on the way our society and culture has change we would have no lighted cross walks to help safely cross the street as we never used to need them because there were no cars.

        Change is inevitable, and in today's world it happens at lightning speed. If we are not changing and improving we are not being progressive.

        The short of it yep agreed the concerns will always be the same the way with which we need to deal with them to meet the new challenges that our world presents us is very different.
        • thumb
          Mar 31 2011: Your comment, "Who is to say that our current system is the best possible way this outcome is achieved?", rings clarion, at least for me.

          Forgive my dour predictions but I do believe we have not, will not and should not try to achieve a best way. Something positive humans have contributed to this environmentally disabled world (totally our fault in so many ways) is to work to dismantle segregation.

          Although we are no more intelligent than we were when we first embraced the concept of agriculture 10,000 years ago, we somehow now have managed to support an enormous range of human diversity, in thought and in being. Not everywhere mind you as an effective counter-balance to this is to enforce archaic and seemingly arbitrary social rules on a subjugated populace (current world events applicable).

          What does this mean? It means there is little chance or need for singular solutions (best ways). The perfect solution for you may be a disastrous one for me. Arrogance would lead us to believe our own solution would be best.

          Self-appointed interest (expert?) groups employ these types of approaches to problem-solving, all the best to them, but they seem to be thinking of building some 'silver bullet' solution. My dour side says this tree will not bear fruit, for it is not a fruit tree.
      • Mar 31 2011: Very true Eric I too do not think that their is a best way or a universal solution to any problem, rather I think that our world and all humans are built to be diverse therefore to believe that a solution for one person will fit another is pure ignorance.

        This is why in my original comments I suggested we turn to a student centric approach in our school system, one that tailors education to an individual child needs/learning style.

        In general most schools try a blanket approach due to resource constraints which may be unnecessary if we reform the way with which we are providing education.
        • thumb
          Mar 31 2011: "quod erat demonstrandum" (QED) or, "quite easily done" (QED)?
  • thumb
    May 10 2011: By showing them how to study without relying on schools.

    Whether schools do or do not exist or what form they take is less important than whether a student feels free to go outside the school system to find his or her own answers.

    The most well thought-out rendition of how this is done that I am aware of is Hubbard's Study Technology.

    In this learning paradigm, the scholar, expert, or "teacher" creates one or more courses for the subject he/she wishes to impart. This takes the form of a checklist of study steps and needed materials and equipment. The student then studies this course at his/her own pace supervised by someone who makes sure that he/she is applying the study technology. The final test of understanding is whether or not the student can apply the materials.

    If no courses exist for a certain subject of interest, the technology also covers how to study a subject independently.
    This is how I learned electronics in a family environment weak on science and engineering and a school environment that did not offer the subject.

    Related concepts:
    Ivan Illich's "learning networks."
    Home schooling.
    Charter schools.
    Education vouchers.
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2011: Be honest.

    I think most of us have known our world is in dire straits for some time and it's time our education system started preparing students for the only truth this world can offer us, which is change.

    The ability for a person to explore, persevere, and look at the big picture, beyond the scope of their own life, will ultimately make or break the planet Earth.

    All of this is only possible when people are able to accept responsibility and care about other people.

    Schools should focus on those things and everything else we teach should follow in those footsteps.

    Above all things, we should be honest to our students about the world they live in and the challenges we have, as well as the hopes and dreams.
  • thumb
    Apr 27 2011: I will again remind everyone that to talk about education in such generalities is non-productive and cannot contribute in a significant way towards gaining any true insight.
    Children require different teaching strategies and educational systems at different stages of their development. What a preschooler needs to learn is not what an elementary grade student needs, which is different from what a middle school student needs, and that is different from what a high school student needs. To know that is to understand the real, unique needs of students/children.
    • thumb
      Apr 28 2011: This is true.
      Also recognising that children don't just change their needs year by year as they get older, but sometimes on a weekly basis.
      There are just some days when they don't feel like doing it. A good teacher doesn't run on curriculum tracks all the time... sometimes they 'off road'
    • thumb
      Apr 29 2011: Yes, agree Jim. We are all victim of 'not overseeing the big picture, as there are many variables etc. So we start in generalities (I guess?) to find a mutual language for common ground?

      Why don't 'we' do the next step, in making a mindmap of the issues in this topic raised and see where the help of kids are possible and where they should be avoided... It's a jungle of issues and views raised, though there are interdepending corner stones to be found I guess.
  • Apr 26 2011: A lot of people have pointed out the obvious fact of a need to change modern day education. But almost all are quite stumped when the answer is being pondered. One of the reasons for this is because we are all from that same system.

    As ken Robinson has often pointed out todays education system is making children ready for yesterdays jobs. The future will see a lot more integration of the WEB into everyday life. But it is important to note that we currently teaching kids that 2+2 is 4 and fail to explain effectively why it is 4.

    The point that I am making is that we need to empower kids to explore the reason/ cause for a phenomenon and not just merely acknowledge it. We are teaching kids today like "Data Entry operators". We just put the data into their system and expect them to remember it. All our tests are memory contests. We need kids to be curious about things. This is actually there but we suppress that instinct of natural curiosity.

    The concept of homework was introduced to enable this. But even that has become redundant, because more and more kids realise that by giving the right answer they can score higher marks rather than trying to answer it their own way. Also, we need to erase the stigma attached to being wrong.

    If we can do this then we can automatically find more and more kids changing the way they learn
  • thumb
    Apr 24 2011: As a teacher, one of the greatest opportunities I have had was to take a group of my sophomores down to the Illinois State Legislature to talk about this issue directly with their state senators. While some students were naturally reluctant to engage in this kind of critical conversation with state senators, their experience changed their outlook about how government should work for them (not the other way around).

    Students were awestruck by the fact that most of the senators they spoke to were people who grew up in the same neighborhoods they did, and came up in the same school system as they did. Giving students the background information on this very issue, and then sending them to the "front lines" to talk with politicians and lobbyists about this issue will be part of the solution to this question you have posed.

    Additionally, making our own efforts as teachers and educators transparent to students, and creating a classroom culture that encourages autonomy and responsibility for their own education will be instrumental in addressing this question head on.
    • May 6 2011: Getting kids out of school teaches them tacit knowledge that they would not gain in any other way. Kudos to you for going above and beyond the call of duty. I think that THIS is what schools are lacking, REAL experiences for students.
  • thumb
    Apr 23 2011: By asking them your exact question. They have the solution. Personally, I feel there should be a balance of vocational and spiritual education. Teach them the skills, how to use it in the world and real life experience. Only when one shares their acquired knowledge or real life experience does it generate value and meaning. Right knowledge is empowering especially when it allows you to help others. First capture change in the mindset through inspiration and hope, changes in the education system, naturally, will follow.
  • Apr 20 2011: To start I like to recommend two books. 1). Movement and Experimentation in Young Children's learning by Liselott Mariett Olsson, and the other is Truth and Method by Hans-Georg Gadamer. Young children are competent and resourceful the thing is that most adults try to figure out how children think instead of trying to understand the thoughts they have (and be amazed by them). To empower children and make them true agents in their own development would begin as far as I am concerned here. Listen to their theories about the world and take these serious and be willing to confront your own truths.

    I have been working with children for many years know and have realized that to empower children it means letting go of the adult-child power relationship. One needs to work with problems the children are preoccupied with, problems of the here and know. By confronting problems and letting children find solutions (individually or in a group) they have the opportunity to use their creativity as individuals and as a group. This may seem a scenario leading to chaos but experimentation is all about movement as so should be education.

    Enjoy your day!
    • thumb
      Apr 20 2011: @kris kalkman; indeed when I reflect upon my relationship with my now grown children, I think if I had chosen to be less of the "Father" figure and more about just being their friend and holding conversation with them, they would have appreciated that much more.
      • Apr 20 2011: I am a preschool teacher and currently in the process of taking my master in Early Childhood Development and Care. When I come to work I am welcomed by a whole bunch of children with much excitement. This I think because for the first I respect them as individuals and secondly I respect their personal thoughts. I treat these children as human beings with their own prerequisites and are furthermore always aware of the fact that they have a view of the world that is unknown to me. To find out what this view is I need to establish a relationship which is characterized by trust and understanding. They need to know that they can speak freely on no matter what it is they are thinking about. This sometimes can be about that they are being teased or on other times it can be about why the moon is hanging in the sky.

        When addressing these problems or questions it is important for me than to take their conception of what is going on as something that is reality for them. This reality needs to be heard and taken into careful consideration because often it can be an opening to something much bigger. The question about the moon could be explained in a scientific way, but is it also possible that this and the child's conception can be intertwined into something even more exciting? When a child gets bullied is it possible to start group reflections concerning philosophy and ethics going as far as to draw in f. ex Emmanuel Levinas?

        A child or adult are both human beings but at the same time we are also human becomings and for this we all need inspiring thoughts and people surrounding us, whether we are young or old. This is a key factor in education and in life.
  • Apr 20 2011: Great question Sarah.

    To know, we are all students and we are all teachers, is empowering.
  • Apr 13 2011: The education system is in desperate need of several things:
    1) clear and cohesive standards in all subjects. NOT standardized testing achievement standards, but standards on exactly what students should be taught and should know.
    2) Curriculums need to interlock and relate to each other so students feel that they are learning something that is truly a part of the world, not an abstract subject. For example, history classes need to incorporate aspects of music, science, math and english. Science needs to incorporate music; english, history, etc.
    Students need to make connections between classes in order for them to be fully engaged.
  • Apr 8 2011: If we give kids Ipads (or any pad loaded with the right apps) at 2 or 3 years old (try it), they will reshape the education system. By the time they get to school they're going to know how to speak, write, do math and navigate the solar system. That's going to free up some serious time in school for actual learning.
    • thumb
      Apr 20 2011: Totally agree. It sounds like you also have a toddler of 2-3 and looking all the time for new apps as my son get's bored quite fast.

      The question is, are we as adults/designers organized well enough to deliver the apps kids in 2 years; of 4-6 need to be excited to explore and 'learn'.
  • thumb
    Apr 4 2011: Where is the "once upon a school" 2008 TED wish by Dave Eggers in the talk list?


    A very concrete way!
    • thumb
      Apr 10 2011: Thanks for the link! It was great to take a look at.
      The only downside I could think of was the amount of time spent at schools / tutors.
      Therefor I would never have been interested.

      So far the Khan Academy really excites me,
      I hope they will expand their Exercises (only Math so far).

      Also, what do you think should change within higher education?
      Besides that everyone should watch TED ^^ (I believe you posted that somewhere)