In Praise of the Problem Child

I’m part of a trend.  I’ve been looking at, and writing about, the industrial model of education, and how it just doesn’t work for what our citizenry or economy need in the 21st century.  Alvin Toffler may have started it with his Third Wave, but I saw it again today in a post by Autodizactic.

My spin on it has to do with mainstream views of students and citizens as parts of cohorts, those groups that start school or phases of life together, and travel through them as a lock-step group.  Diverging from the path the rest of the cohort treads is to be considered, literally, a ‘problem child’. 

Compare and contast this with the skillset needed for jobs that both a) can’t be readily outsourced, and b) pay well.  The biggest skills our kids need, if they are to succeed in a volatile global economy, are critical and innovative thinking.  That means being both willing and able to question authority and to look at things in unique ways.  Are those skills kids managed into compliance and drilled in rote memory and algorithms are going to be able to magically pull out of thier hats when needed?  I don’t think so.

Our problem is considering ‘problem children’ problems.

We WANT problem children in our classes and communities.  They are passionate, engaged, and creative.  It is only when we try to tell them what to be passionate, engaged and creative *about* that we run afoul of them. We need to change our educational paradigm away from cohort managment and towards individual facilitation.  We need to cultivate the ‘problem’ in all of our children.  Get ‘problem children’ to tell us what they want out of their educations, let them do real problem based and service learning, and watch them motivate everyone around them with their fire.

Make education a service-sector job where the client is – finally – not just society, but students first and society second.  Students who are told that their dreams matter, and that they are capable of reaching them, WILL take our society along with them.  We would be helpless to resist.


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