Jon Becker recently skewered several arguments about the direction education “needs” to go in. He did it so well, I couldn’t help but respond in a comment to another false assumption about the direction of schools.

On Educational Insanity Kevin commented,

I think the point Mr. Becker is trying to make is that we need to first decide what we want a graduating senior to know and be able to do, before we can talk about the “how” or “why” of school change. If my analysis of his post is correct then I would agree with him. Too often I find in schools that we try to make decisions in a vacuum without ever deciding what it is we are aiming for. As educational leaders we should be asking ourselves first “Where are we headed?” It is the basic concept of backwards by design. Figure out your endpoint and then decide how to get there.

The idea of backwards design, when it comes to the purposes of education is one of those ideas that sounds good on the surface but, I believe would fly apart upon implementation. Backwards design assumes that we are able to know where we want to go based on the information we have now.

Most of the jobs young students will have in the future haven’t been invented yet.

Jmonk-riding-backwardsust watch, as we try to come up with national standards, how narrow we get with the purposes of school. If you try to make everybody (including the USED) happy all the time, it is hard to say anything meaningful beyond common sense ideas like, everybody should be able to read, everybody should have some ideas about probability. These ideas have already been put forward by various national organizations. The national standards will be nothing new, they will only make what we need to teach kids more specific, and less meaningful.

Kevin, I don’t think we need to incorporate backwards design at this point. When we throw the purposes of education up for delineation it actually makes the purposes of school less democratic in our current society. There are so many “influencers” out there that do not have students’ success and welfare at the center of their arguments that by clarifying the goals of schooling we would defacto narrow those goals. The loudest voices in a backwards design would the ones with the most to gain in the process, industry. At least the way it is now, teachers have the opportunity to squeeze in some Plato, or Joyce, Jack Kerouac, or Abbot and Costello into a discussion on language and meaning. In a backwards designed classroom we will always be chasing the lion’s tail, trying to catch up with a changing society. Students will be doing this because of what some policy maker or eduwonk has deemed important instead of what they have decided for themselves. The more specific we make our goals, the less meaningful they will be. The less specific we make our goals, the more opportunities there will be for students to find meaning. Maybe we should start thinking about the shape of the pegs, when we design the holes, instead of the other way around.


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