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 20 2011: Over the past two years I have realized my children's most important school years were 1-5. They developed a worthwhile base for Middle School, High School and College while there. It was a good school, and I was happy with it. Perhaps they were doing more that would have given them a 'good grade'. I certainly wouldn't have given some Middle School and High School teachers a decent grade - but my children were able to move through the teachers silliness. It was because of that elementary school grounding.
    • Feb 22 2011: I like this comment
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      Feb 22 2011: Well said William. It amazes me that our culture only sees early education as a means to higher education. This is why we have a crisis in education. If you adopt a pet you don't wait till it is fully matured to train but keep it in a day care hoping that if it is behaved enough that it will have a chance to be taught by a more renowned teacher when it is older. Yet this is our educational model. Children are inquisitive creatures by nature, full of curiosity, but after a couple of years starring at a blackboard (Maybe an I pad if your school is tech savvy) and what have they learned. Not to talk to peers, how to tell what information will be tested, and how to disregard the rest, that after 45 min of studding something it is time to stop and do something new. The sad part is a great education would be affordable. A simple garden can be a multi- grade lab where one class is learning about how provide basic care for plants while the higher ups can be studding soil composition. Instead of spending money for state of the art computers where children learn "programs", the modern equivalent of secretarial skills, take in donated computers that need work. Teach them how to reprogram them so they work. A few years of this at an impressionable age and we will have a population that will be able to tach itself and each other.

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