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Challenging the Educational Norm by David A. Janosz, Jr. - February 2005

It is argued that a literate, democratic citizenry and a public education for every child in the United States is what made this country the most successful of the twentieth century.  This notion may have in fact laid the groundwork for greatness, but what really made this country great was the technological literacy of a few great thinkers, inventors, and other leaders.  It was technological invention, innovation, and well thought out products and ideas that gave the United States “the edge” in the twentieth century and propelled our country to immeasurable prominence.  I believe that it will continue to be technological invention and innovation that will maintain that edge.  Yet, I do not believe that our current system of education, one that still stresses rote learning and standardized testing, is doing the job.

We live in a world where many other enlightened countries have perhaps surpassed the general intelligence of our youth.  Factors such as longer school years may contribute to these countries’ educational successes, but I believe it will remain “what and how things are taught” that determines the relative greatness of contemporary societies.  Many other countries have begun to weave technological literacy into the fabric of their educational systems, perhaps most notably in the United Kingdom.  They are teaching all their students to think and do things just like the people that made this country great while we by and large are not. 

Not only should we also include this in our curriculum at all grade levels, it should become the new educational norm. We must teach all of our students to invent, innovate, and understand technologies, and thereby they will learn to apply their knowledge and discover new things.  It must be for all girls and boys and all socioeconomic levels, not just a few, and it must be taken as seriously as any other area of the school curriculum.  We should see more active learning in our schools, such as a small group of students coming together to design, construct, and test a mechanical toy, a model aircraft, or a new community center building. 

This challenges many of the notions that are so entrenched in educational thinking.  It challenges the notion that standardized tests are a good way to determine a student’s ability.  It challenges the notion that lectures and rote learning are effective in achieving an appreciation for learning and the value of knowledge in our children.  You simply have to walk around a school to know that some of the most effective, efficient, exciting learning is going on these types of classrooms, not in the ones where students sit in rows of chairs and desks listening to hours upon hours of teachers lecturing.

The problem is that many Technology Education programs that approached teaching in the manner most important to our society and economy have closed over the years due to various politically motivated reasons.  Resources that formerly were put toward these programs have been diverted to other programs.  Students are even being denied opportunities to take such courses so that they can be placed in courses geared specifically toward performing better on pencil and paper tests.  When funds are not available, these programs are too often the first to be cut.

Then why does our system of education continue to stress the knowledge that students may least likely need or use in their lives?  Why does the system foster ways and means of teaching and learning that are proven least effective?  It’s because the education community has always stressed that type of knowledge.  The education system of today is simply too much like it was 150 years ago.  Teachers and administrators everyday continue to ignore current research on teaching and learning in favor of practices that reach back to the nineteenth century.  They are also largely unaware of the true needs of the business community and society in general.

Parents, businesspeople, and other members of the community should challenge these notions with the confidence that they will help give the youth of today the tools that they will use for a lifetime, not just on some Saturday morning.