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The American High School Is Obsolete. Let’s Do Something About It.

Stashed in: Education!, Education

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An organization called the XQ Institute -- sounds like something led by a bald telepath in a wheelchair! -- is holding a contest to reimagine the high school of the future.

Yes! This is a really good point:

For example, it’s true that the prefrontal cortex—a portion of the human brain that helps us make decisions, prioritize tasks, and control impulses—works differently in adolescents than it does in adults. Rather than viewing this reality as an obstacle, educators should feel empowered to leverage this reality of the adolescent brain, engaging and encouraging teenagers’ desire for novelty or independence, rather than suppressing it.

“Educators should look at this as an indicator of an adolescent brain’s malleability and responsiveness to stimuli,” says Michele Cahill, a distinguished fellow in education and youth development for the National Center for Civic Innovation, as well as a participant in the XQ Institute. “Influencing kids, either in a positive or negative direction, actually accelerates their growth.”

That starts by recognizing that some of the methods educators have employed for teaching kids in the past don’t really work—or at least, not for every situation. For example, rote memorization is great when gearing up for taking a test (or learning how to assemble the parts of a machine), but little to no actual knowledge is retained over the long term. Thus, what used to be a key component of educational policy (how did you learn your times tables?) is starting to fade away.

“Rote memorization becomes something that is done for a purpose of compliance, rather than for the purpose of learning,” Cahill explains. “In particular, we know that young people now need to learn the context [of material] that they can learn and build on, and also so that they can learn to think critically and problem-solve—which you don’t do in the abstract.”

Memorization and subsequent regurgitation remains an important facet of factory-model schools, especially with regard to standardized testing, which often requires that kids be taught to a test, rather than to increase a student’s overall knowledge of the world, or her future ability to build on that knowledge and adapt what she knows to new information and circumstances. The best learning occurs when students can creatively apply what they’ve learned to the real world, and when lessons are put into context—so that what happens in science class applies to history class, literature class, foreign language classes, and even physical education.

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