What Kind of Students is Your School Producing?

One of my favorite sources for intellectual challenge is the Modern Learners website — a home for provocative content being created and curated by Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon.  This week, I stumbled across a bit from Will that introduced me to the thinking of Seymour Papert — an MIT mathematician and longtime leader in efforts to use digital tools to reimagine learning spaces.

Specifically, Will spotlights a quote that came from a speech given by Papert way back in 1998.

Here it is:

(click here to view quote and image credit on Flickr)


In one concise statement, Papert neatly summarizes the outcome that our schools should care the most about.

I can’t think of a single parent, principal, policymaker or pundit that would disagree with the notion that successful schooling results in students who know how to act when faced with situations that they haven’t been specifically prepared for.  More importantly, I can’t think of a single student who would struggle in life after learning how to act confidently and competently in the face of uncertainty.

But here’s the hitch:  So little about what we prioritize in schools prepares students for unexpected situations.  Instead, “being prepared” means learning the same sets of basic facts that our parents and grandparents learned.  Our lessons — and the tools that we use to rank and sort both schools and students — almost always emphasize knowing, not doing.

Stew in all of that for a minute:  If producing students who are ready to act regardless of the circumstances really WAS a priority, how would your instructional and assessment practices have to change?



Related Radical Reads:

Here’s What We Have to Stop Pretending

Where Have All the Beautiful Questions Gone?

What if Schools Created a Culture of DO instead of a Culture of KNOW?

  • BillIvey

    A Feminist School

    If producing students who are ready to act regardless of the circumstances really WAS a priority, how would your instructional and assessment practices have to change?

    Well, working in a feminist school for girls, I would argue that very specifically is our priority – precisely because we (and, at least by the time they graduate, the kids) are all too aware of the circumstances produced by a patriarchal society. Some of us are more explicitly feminist than others (perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m probably seen as among the most explicit), and we are more succesful with some students than with others. But for our students to know their authentic selves and voices, and be willing and able to use them no matter what our society might throw at them, that’s what my school is all about.

     So, what kind of students is my school producing? Feminist students.

  • SandyMerz

    Great Point

    That is a super quote. I wonder how students would respond on an assessment: What has the material in this unit prepared you for, beyond what it was specifically intended to? 

    • billferriter

      Hey Sandy, 

      Hey Sandy, 

      Assessment is such an interesting thread in this conversation simply because the type of content we teach governs the assessments we give — and there’s nothing in the content that we teach that requires action.  Our required curriculum is still centered in knowing — instead of doing.  So asking kids to act — or even how they WOULD act — is probably going to be met by blank stares!

      The sad truth is that most kids probably don’t even see themselves as actors — or even see a responsibility to act.  They are receivers.  Silent receivers.

      Gives me chills.