It strikes me that we need to talk about this.
There is a big difference between these two things – deep knowing and knowing about. I know about a lot of things. I read a lot, I’ve paid decent attention throughout my own 41 years, I watch the occasional TEDTalk, etc but the things I deep know are much smaller subset than the things I know about. I know education, its history, its processes, the how, the why, etc… I know Philadelphia sports – history, current, etc… from a very deep level. On some level, what I suppose I am talking about is the idea of expert knowledge.
It’s important because it raises the question of what we want our students to know against what we simply expect them to know about. In the course of a high school education, an American student will take course work in English, US History, World History, Biology, Chemistry, some Physics, higher level math, a World Language, some Arts education, and maybe an elective of their choosing or two.
To what end?
I ask that seriously.
One of the things I talk about with teachers a lot is the idea that, in any given class, if you are lucky, 10% of the kids will major in a field that is related to the course material you are teaching. If we only teach to those 10%, we will lose the 90%. But we also have to teach in such a way as to not lose the 10% of the kids who are rabidly passionate about the subject. And in addition, we assess those students the same way.
More than that, I worry a lot about some of the assumptions that seem to be getting made about what real learning looks like. I’ve watched a lot of TEDTalks. I love them. They are amazing brain candy. But I can’t presume to really know anything more than the most surface information about the talks I’ve seen. There are several TEDTalks that have so inspired me that I’ve gone on to do deeper research and really learn a lot about the topic so that I feel even mildly competent about the topic, but even then, I wouldn’t argue that I deeply know those topics. So what are our goals for kids? Do we want them to exposed to lots of ideas or do we want them to be able to deeply explore ideas.
And the answer, of course, is both.
But both is hard because whether we like it or not, our greatest limiting factor is time. At the high school level, we have the kids for four years, and we ask them to take somewhere between 22-30 classes across five or six core disciplines in that time, and they have lives outside of school as well that should and must be nurtured and valued. We need to be much more deliberate than we are now if we want to help students maximize that time in such a way as to be able to deeply learn anything.
It strikes me that much of the goal of high school is to expose kids to ideas and concepts they can know about in empowering, enriching ways that will do the following:
1) Build a love of learning about in kids.
2) Expose kids to enough stuff that they can find their own passions – the things they want to deeply know (and then actively do stuff with.)
3) Build the skills necessary to learn deeply and build meaningfully now and keep learning and doing once they leave our walls.
But it also strikes me that we create a lot of roadblocks – both at the policy level and at the individual school and classroom level – that get in the way of that. And while it won’t be easy to get some of those roadblocks out of the way, we should examine the ones within our zone of control and work to do so.