Will Richardson's Why School? is not only a thoughtful reflection on current educational trends, but it is also a call to action for educators, parents, and politicians to change our perspectives on schooling. Richardson argues that kids take far too many standardized tests that ultimately teaches students that there is one right answer. He notes that these tests have absolutely nothing to do with life after high school; what is far more important is teaching our kids different ways of thinking and solving real life problems. I completely agree with Richardson -- our education system is bogged down with ineffective political reforms and dated methods of presenting curriculum. Richardson's essay is an exciting and invigorating perspective, particularly for up and coming teachers. New teachers are one effective way to initiate new methods of teaching, so I'm glad I read this so early in my teaching career.
One powerful idea Richardson wrote that struck a cord with me was his section titled "Do Real Work for Real Audiences." Richardson says that most of the school work his kids do comes home and has zero impact on them after the required signatures are obtained. It would be far more powerful and significant to students if they created projects they are interested in and shared them online. While they may forget the content years later, the skills they develop and learn will stay with the students. It seems to me that we have an obligation to our students to present them with our best practices and our best abilities as a teacher. The system we have now, centered on standardized tests, repetitive essays, and rote memorization doesn't work. One thing that is great about Richardson's essay is that he gives plenty of examples for alternative activities and projects that can take the place of tests.
I am completely behind Richardson's outlook for the future of education. However, it seems that it won't be as easy as he implies. He does indicate that we all need to act now to change the direction we are headed. But it seems that often some (or much) of the content that is taught in schools is not completely up to the teacher. Teachers need to work with the other teachers in the same department to create consistency between classes -- and let's be honest -- teachers have a multitude of attitudes about change, methods and practices of teaching, and teaching philosophies. Of course, teachers need to work together to find a common ground and move forward, but sometimes not everyone agrees with having a project instead of a test. Further, sometimes the districts get involved, and even parents. It seems that what needs to happen first is getting everyone (teachers, parents, districts, politicians, etc.) on board with approaching education differently. That in and of itself will be a challenge, and one way to approach that challenge is to implement new strategies (like the ones Richardson mentions) in our classrooms. Perhaps little by little, we can turn the tide of education.