When I went to kindergarten, teachers sat misbehaving children in the corner of the room with dunce caps on their heads. (I also walked to school 10 miles uphill in the snow and 10 miles back — uphill again.) Schools have changed. We know a lot more about how children learn and about the skills they’ll need in the future.
Rote memorization has a place, but a much smaller one than it did in the past. Content is important, but concepts allow students to use that content in new and different ways. Some of this change has been prompted by research, particularly brain research, and some has been prompted by the undeniable fact that changes in our world and in our culture will continue to come at a breathtaking pace.
The rote skills we use now could be obsolete by the time your children are adults. To prepare them for an ever-changing world, schools have had to embrace change and take advantage of its inevitability in designing the school day.
Some of the most profound changes in education have to do with integrating curriculum, individualizing instruction and teaching higher-level thinking skills. Your children don’t go into a music or art class, immerse themselves in that discipline and then cease to understand that material until the next music or art class. In the same way, reading, writing, math, science and social studies all complement each other.
They all emphasize concepts, problem solving and comprehension, and they build on each other by using similar and related content and skills. When a school integrates content, computer classes include research skills and music is chosen to purposefully support the phonemic awareness and patterns that enhance reading and math skills.
In addition to integration, teachers now differentiate instruction to guarantee success for everyone. They also focus on teaching higher level thinking skills and the ability to work through individual challenges, some of the most important tools your children will need so they will appear over and over during the school day.
Another new focus in education is on character development. Dick and Jane never had a fight, Spot never left a wet spot on the floor and Baby Sally never had a temper tantrum. I didn’t learn ethics from my early readers, but those publishers didn’t take advantage of how easy it would be to integrate values into stories. The ability to cooperate and collaborate with others who have different interests, backgrounds and skills will be necessary and invaluable to your children. They’ll need a world view, empathy and the ability to see the strengths and gifts of people who may appear to be different.
Your children will see more group projects because they require the cooperation and collaboration that have an important impact on learning. Working together on a common goal encourages the discussion and open-mindedness that are necessary for innovation and achievement.
So, as you look at the goals you have for your children, keep in mind that what happens in schools has changed. Calculating how long it takes to walk 10 miles uphill in the snow now includes scientific considerations of temperature, whether you walk in rhythm, the beauty of the falling flakes, how many friends are walking with you and whether an active learner can get there faster.