By Carla Silver, Executive Director
I'm only 30 pages into Tara Westover's book Educated and I feel like she's already made the most compelling point clear. You can be a contributing member of society, a captivating writer and storyteller, and a fully formed human being with a sense of self, without a formal elementary or high school eduction. There are plenty of examples of highly successful people (and I am using the definition of success to mean productive humans with a sense of purpose) who have been homeschooled or completely unschooled. My L+D Partner, Ryan Burke, recently shared this gem of a video with me from TedX Overlake. Despite the fact that she was married with a career before she really knew about our solar system, didn't mean that the speaker Merilee Wilmore, a naturalist, was uneducated, but rather that she just knew there was so much more to learn.
So what exactly are we talking about when say someone is "educated"? Is that they can write a five paragraph essay? Is it that they have learned at least "level three" of a foreign language? Is it that they have read at least one work by Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and Faulkner? Is that that they can spell and define the top 200 SAT vocabulary words?
Nearly two decades into the 21st century, school feels trapped in the 20th century. Despite (or maybe because of) enormous paradigm shifts in the way we can access information and the way we can communicate and collaborate with other people around the world, many schools still cling to what seems to be a very limited view of what being educated means and looks like. Worse yet, we make up really weird ideas about what makes a high school student eligible for a selective college - like they have taken Calculus - as if somehow that is an indicator of great success in college or in life. What about these things that we have been teaching is so precious that we can't seem to let go? What about the way we've been teaching seems so sacred that we can't reinvent the practice?
I'm writing as an educator, a parent, and a student (yes, I still take classes because there are definitely things I am curious about that I don't know much about) and I'm not sure I have real clarity on what makes for an educated person in 2019. I'm not even sure that most schools know what they are supposed to be doing or what success looks like or what is actually important for young people to learn and be able to do once they leave school. And when we try to open up the conversations and start exploring these questions, defenses immediately go up, as if every educator in the room feels accused of somehow not doing their job. I'm wondering what would happen if we (the L+D community) collectively asked these questions all year long and we came to some agreement on what it means to be an educated person? Is that even the right question to ask? Most design thinkers know that the first question is usually just a launching point and the more beautiful questions emerge much later.
Please join us in this conversation this year. It's one a lot of schools and school leaders are having and we'll be writing out loud in the hopes of making some progress on our own thinking and getting closer to some truth about learning, school, education and the like,