Deskilling Our Students?

Are our high schools effectively preparing our students for life beyond the schoolhouse doors?  It is a question that groups like National Governors Association, Jobs for the Future, Alliance for Excellent Education, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and many others have lent their policy heft to.  And it is an issue where the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has lent the heft of its coffers to.  In a few short years, high school improvement has become THE ed reform issue.

This week, Eduflack was down at the Education Industry Association conference, hearing tales of SES, charters, technology, and entrepreneurship.  There was one concept, though, that has stuck deep into the troubled mind of Eduflack.  Deskilling.

When we look at high schools, we recognize that most of our secondary schools are still built on an educational model that is now vastly out of date.  That’s why we are trying to restore rigor and relevance to the schools, demonstrating that high school is a necessary step to both college and career.

But how do we do it?  In districts throughout the nation, we still have high school students sitting in row after row of desks, reading from hard-cover textbooks, taking mimeographed quizzes, and generally using the learning tools and approaches that their parents once used.  Simply, we’re teaching 21st century students with 19th century approaches.

These students, of course, are coming to class equipped in a way their parents never envisioned.  Strong computer skills.  Communication skills derived from websites like MySpace and the like.  Organizational skills coming from sites like MeetUp.  Multimedia learning abilities from iPods and YouTube.  Instant messaging.  Blogs.  Students are equipped with an unending list of skills and abilities that most of our public schools still don’t have a handle on.  They utilize multiple ways of learning, without even knowing they are being taught.

And how do we approach such students, once they pass through the high school entryway?  Simply, we deskill them.  Instead of building on these abilities and providing instruction and learning opportunities through the mediums and vehicles that students know (and that future employers will benefit from) we are asking many of our students to leave their knowledgebase at the door, and pick up the textbook, sit at their one-piece desk, and be educated the way their forefathers were.

That’s a cryin’ shame.  If we look under the hood of high school reform, we’re seeing successes in early colleges, redesigned classrooms, one-to-one computing, and distance education.  We’re succeeding where our classrooms are evolving and meeting the learning, socialization, and communication skills of the students we’re serving.  If we expect more from our students, we need to work with them, and not against them.  We need to enhance their skills, not discourage them.  We need to equip them, not deskill them.

If we want a skilled workforce, we can’t send the message that such skills have no place in a traditional classroom.  In our multimedia world, we need a multimedia education.  Don’t know what that means?  Try asking one of the kids in your class.  I’m sure they’ll be happy to teach, if we’re ready to learn.  

One thought on “Deskilling Our Students?

  1. Part of the problem is exactly that: they already know how to use a computer, but they have difficulties using a book. A modern education doesn´t have to be a computer education.

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