Thoughts on 21st century education

Education in the West is becoming more and more focused on maths, science and testing, from a younger age, and it’s killing the creativity of our kids and their ability to learn for themselves and find what makes them tick.

This past week, I was in discussion with a few people on Twitter about the state of modern education, principally in the United States, but in the Western world in general.

I was sent a couple of articles to read. The first was about the enormous amount of homework that children do. This one is particularly true of children in the United States. And then someone sent me a follow-up article, about how children are starved of play time these days.

The first article infuriated me. Cultural exports have long suggested that American children are overworked, even compared to little old me, from America’s special relationship, the UK, but the article confirmed it for me: American kids are being forced into several hours of homework every night, even in some cases for kindergarten!

My daughter will never be required or requested to do anything more than an hour of homework a night on average (and this is at high school / secondary school level). That’s all I ever did, and clearly, I’m doing quite well for myself, so I’d argue that all the homework in the world isn’t making better students of Americans.

The second article really rounded out the argument for me. As opposed to focusing on the negative aspects of the American education system, it focuses on what kids aren’t doing that they should be (playing) and the bounty of merits that are forfeited as a result.

It even goes so far as to look at schools where children are essentially encouraged to play all day long, and there is no formal education.

While I had a formal education, and benefited from it, the article makes excellent points about the rewards of exploring and learning by intrigue. When children are given the freedom to explore at will, they learn important lessons about how to interact socially, how things work and how to manage themselves, their time and their money.

After reading these articles, I started a little discussion on Twitter about it and found that someone I admire greatly never had a formal education. He’s now a very successful WordPress entrepreneur, working for himself and making good money by selling his own plugins. He’s also very socially adept and a standup guy, which goes to show that many of the reasons people are wary of homeschooling, or not schooling at all, such as social awkwardness and learning life skills, need not come to be.

This ties in excellently to my all-time favourite TED talk, by Ken Robinson, about how there is no creativity in the education system, and we’re starving so many kids of their chance to shine.

The articles inspired me so much, that for a moment, I had made up my mind that Ellie doesn’t need a formal education, and she can just learn by experience. I’ve since reeled in my thoughts a little, and while I still think that’s a fantastic model, I also see benefits to structured education. I think we’ll allow circumstances and Ellie’s desires and fort├ęs dictate how she’s educated.

What I do know is that we will not allow her to fall into the trap of standard American education: there’s no room for creativity, no room for thinking and no room for a childhood: just enough room for learning to memorise what is needed to pass the test. And I think it would be a disservice to her to herd her into that arena.

Author: Dave

Dave is many things. Most importantly, he's a husband and a father to Ellie and Jack. Almost as important, he's British (though he lives in Florida). Following on from there, he's a WordPress developer and civil engineer, has an unhealthy love of hummus, is vegan, likes cider, wants to travel to Iceland and Japan, loves solving puzzles and is a realist.

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