TED Conversations

Gever Tulley

Author & Founder, Founder, Tinkering School


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Test Schools, Not Children

Instead of subjecting children to an endless series of tests and grades, we should be testing the schools for how engaged the children are, and how many ah-ha! moments there are in a typical day. In the long-term we should test how durable the learning is (how much 5th grade algebra and trigonometry do you remember?), how much curiosity the graduates retain, and how passionate they are for learning as adults.


Closing Statement from Gever Tulley

People perceive many issues in education today, and it is clear from our conversation (sometimes heated, sometimes brilliant), that any attempt to address one single issue necessarily leaves many unanswered issues. In general, those well served by a traditional education seem to see little problem with continuing the practice, and those who struggled through school embrace the notion of change - not for the sake of change, but for the chance that we might invent something better.

In seeking to change how we assess children, I started this conversation with the suggestion that we switch the focus of assessment to the schools. To many, this seemed to be a naive approach. A few commenters seemed to be saying, "the system can work, we just need to be more targeted with our testing." Many agreed that there was too much testing, but that some testing can actually be beneficial. Others found merit and suggested ways that it be implemented. Some concern was raised regarding the time it would take to know when a school was failing.

Eric Mercer turned the topic around, asking, "An educational system reflects, not creates, the habits and practices of a society. So which is broken?" My immediate thought is that the best way to fix an ailing society starts with fixing education, which seems to echo the sentiments of many commenters who suggested that schools aren't doing a good job of helping students discover what they truly want to do with their lives. Lee Wilkinson's high school experience seemed to be putting up more roadblocks when it could have been paving the way; "The problem as I see it is; I told them back then that this is what I wanted to do with my life and was told to stop day dreaming."

This has been a fascinating conversation, and I thank everyone for joining in. I am doing my small part to explore new ways to create meaningful education through Tinkering School and my newest project, Brightworks (http://sfbrightworks.org). All my best,

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    Feb 19 2011: Broadly speaking, I think the goals of educations should be (1) to help young people choose a life path that gives them the most satisfaction, and (2) teach them the human and practical skills they need to excel at that path.

    I'm 33, Ivy-League-educated, and in a stable job that challenges me, enables me to travel and interact with great people, and develop new ideas to use emerging technologies to improve lives. I've also been a teacher and a journalist, and lived in the U.S., Africa, and Europe. By almost all definitions I have "succeeded." I'm happy, yes. But I also feel like I haven't discovered my true passion—a fulfilling life path. I look back at my standard, U.S. public-school education and don't recall being taught to think about what makes me happy and why.

    I think if our goal is to help young people grow into emotionally fulfilled adults (which are surprisingly rare in today's world) we have to do more to help young people learn to be introspective—to identify what makes them happy in life—and then give them the tools to go after those things.

    I'll leave it to the education experts to say what such a system might look like, but here are some of the insights that struck me from this conversation:
    - Pay teachers much more (to attract the best talent) and then require them to sit in each other's classes, both to learn from colleagues' approaches and to evaluate each other.
    - Group learners by interest/learning style (rather than by age) and with teachers passionate about that interest.
    - Find ways to individualize instruction more, by increasing money in the system to decrease class size, but also by pulling more of society into the role of teacher. Young people could spend more time learning from professionals, and more class activities can be guided automatically (computers, virtual reality).
    - We don't need to learn to recall most facts anymore (thanks, Google!). Since our educational needs have changed so much, it's a great time to rethink the system

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