When I was doing my administrative internship roughly 10,000 years ago, I walked into a classroom and saw the best essential question ever:
What Really Matters?
I’ve used that question over and over again in my work with students at all levels and it’s never failed to inspire interesting and challenging conversations on all sorts of topics.
So as I sat at the Phi Delta Kappa conference in Atlanta listening to Yong Zhao speak on the general topic of “globalization,” I was struck that his opening question was just that- What Really Matters? What knowledge is worth the most?
He went on to discuss a number of really important topics (enough topics for at least 20 blog posts) but this one struck me most. He spoke about the same things that we’ve been talking about for 40+ years at ANE- what’s really worth knowing- both for adults and kids- and how do we balance content and process in our instruction?
I find so often that this seems to be a universal truth that we have to rediscover over and over again- content is less important than process. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowing how to learn is more valuable than what you learn.
We know this. We’ve known this and done this for ages. We’ve done it through A Nation At Risk and No Child Left Behind. We’ve done it with preschoolers and graduate students. Over and over we’ve shown this to be true.
At one point, I asked Dr. Zhao what he’d have me say to administrators and teachers who want to use progressive, constructivist, student-centered models of instruction but who are afraid. “What can I say,” I asked, “to make them brave enough to take this risk?” I wish I could say that he gave me a magical answer. He didn’t. He did, however, point out that this folks could be stopped in their tracks by one simple question:
At What Cost?
At what cost do we achieve high test scores? What are we losing when we sacrifice our students childhoods on the altar of the TIMSS or the PISA? Once we establish the cost of those scores, are we willing to live with that trade off? Is it really worth it? Any educator worth having in a classroom is going to say no. They’d better say no because the alternative is unthinkable. Using our students as professional human shields, allowing them to take the fall so that we can retain our jobs, is simply unconscionable.
So now I ask you- What really matters to you? What matters most for your students? And what is the cost of not giving them that?