One of the ironies of the information revolution is that finding relevant and accurate information can be more difficult than ever before. We are in fact buried by news, blogs, Twitter feeds, and other internet content; magazines and newspapers and newsletters; 24-hour news channels in every time zone; and books, increasingly self-published, on every possible topic. How do we figure out what is useful in this inexhaustible supply of information? How do you think critically about the accuracy and reliability of these sources?
Fortunately we have experts in answering these kinds of questions: librarians!
Librarian's are trained experts in the many ways of finding information. They can teach a set of skills that are seldom central in "regular" courses but increasingly indispensable in today's economy and society.
Librarians, however, are often some of the first educational staff put on the chopping block by budget cuts. For many, librarians are just people who shelve books, or perhaps "extras" that we might do without. Maureen Sullivan, the president of the American Library Association, helpfully dispels this belief in an op-ed this past Monday. Her view reinforces the need to more aggressively transform education from the industrial model with which public schools were first developed to a model rooted in the new information economy (see posts on this subject here and here).
A great editorial in The New York Times this past Friday points out how our antiquated model of education-- based on factory production-- is a major obstacle to improving public schools. Countries with the very best systems have adapted to the information revolution. They approach teaching as a profession, akin to medicine or law, complete with rigorous standards, long-term apprenticeships, and collaborative knowledge building. It's the teachers, and the teaching, that matters. Our current system doesn't allow teachers to shine.
I attended graduate school with the author of the piece, Jal Mehta. Read the editorial in full here: Teachers: Will We Ever Learn?
Most of the food served in school cafeterias is abysmal. Students at LMMS, for example, are required to take a fruit for lunch each day, in the name of good nutrition. One of the options? Canned pears swimming in sugar syrup! And this example only scratches the surface. No wonder many kids have such a difficult time understanding healthy eating, given what the schools present as a balanced meal.
Making the problem even worse are the policies of allowing for-profit corporations to market and sell junk food directly in the schools through vending machines. An article I read today suggests just some of the reasons why this is poor school policy: it undermines the minimal nutritional standards of the school cafeteria, stigmatizes low-income students, allows corporate marketing campaigns to penetrate the schools, and makes understanding healthy food choices even more difficult. Read more in "Ridding Schools of Fast Food, Junk Food, and Soda Pushers"
My daughter began the yearly PSSAs today, and my son's schedule was disrupted by the older kids taking them at Lincoln. This was on my mind as I read an interesting letter from a retiring teacher published in the Washington Post a few days ago. His overall point is that many troubling trends in public education-- including standardized high stakes testing-- share a common devaluing of teachers as professionals: "My profession...no longer exists"
The relentless focus on standardized tests in the schools needs to be changed. There is an interesting op-ed about parents in the Pittsburgh area who have opted-out of taking the PSSAs. I didn't actually know parents had this choice in PA! Link: "Why I won't let my son take the PSSA"
The problem, though, is a few parents doing this as individuals will not help very much in changing the system. They don't constitute a "movement." Change requires a more coordinated and organized effort by parents and educators.
An interesting article by a current employer about the need for schools to innovate-- we need schooling based on the information revolution, rather than schools based on the industrial revolution: "Industrial Age Education is a Disservice to Students"
CNN.com has a well-written piece today by a business schoolstudent discussing how educational programs in music aren't just "extras," but in fact teach the core lessons 21st-century students need: "Everything I need to know, I learned in music class"
The Atlantic has an interesting article on the Finish education system in its latest issue. No standardized tests, no school choice, and no teacher 'accountability', yet one of the best systems in the world. Yes, Finland has a much different population than the U.S., but the article addresses that issue too: "What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success"