TED Conversations

Sarah Shewey

CEO/Founder, Happily


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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.


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  • 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......
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      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?
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        Tao P 50+

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        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.
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          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.
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          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.
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        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.
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          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.
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          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.
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        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.
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        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.
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          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.
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      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'
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      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.

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