I read an article months ago about kids of my generation and younger growing up faster than older generations. I wish I had saved the article, or even just remembered what site I found it on, because of course now I cannot cite it or even check its reliability. The topic really stuck with me, because I remember thinking about its links to education. If this is really true, then as a future educator I need to consider that every year I will be meeting a new group of kids who are at a completely different stage in their learning than the last.
This article talked about all the different tools my generation had at our fingertips when we were just tiny kids. While my mother and father were given plastic rattles and stuffed bunnies, I had few toys that didn’t sing or read to me. My parents did wooden puzzles and I played LeapFrog. Now when you go to church on Sunday morning or have to sit in a doctor’s office waiting room you are surrounded by kids holding iPads and tablets and their parents’ cell phones. This is not a rant about the rotten technology age, so those of you considering closing the tab, bear with me. I think it is great that we have these tools, and if you haven’t taken the time to play on some of these educational apps, you’ll be amazed, but I’m a little concerned about society’s expectations of kids.
Change is good, change is necessary, and change is inevitable. If you aren’t moving forward, you’re standing still, right? I, Taylor Trimble, agree that parenting has to change from generation to generation. I also agree that society should expect more and more from the world and push our young people to think bigger and be better, but I am having so much trouble agreeing that kids need to learn more quickly, think like adults, and mature faster. What valuable skills will kids miss out on? If we continue to supply kids with tools that eliminate the need for them to be creative and innovative, aren’t we skipping some valuable steps in their development?
I read another article recently (which of course I didn’t save, write down, or bother to check the authenticity of) which was talking about how moms spend so much time planning games, crafts, and activities for their kids, that those children never have to entertain themselves. I couldn’t help but agree that this age of “super-moms” often take all the thinking and learning opportunities away from their children by planning out their every second. I remember spending many summers with chores lists, money to go swimming, and nothing else but free hours to create my own worlds full of make-believe. I’ve been a teacher for as long as I can remember, as my favorite toys included school desks and super old text books. I may not have been working on science, math, or writing in my 3 months at home, but I was definitely working on my creativity, collaboration skills (my sister and I fought a lot), and problem solving. After all, when you only have a reading textbook and and one crummy box of flashcards, you’ve got to get creative on how to teach all the other subjects.
The other day I was sitting in on the first graders in TAG class, and the teacher asked this question: “There are 20 birds in a tree, and a hunter shoots one. How many birds are left in the tree?” Immediately one little boy said, “None, they all flew away.” And here I was thinking 19. Kids think about the world so much differently than the rest of us, and that’s not a bad thing. Why do we want them to think like us, anyway? If all the kids in the world are taught to think like the adults in the world, then when those kids are adults, what’s our world going to look like? The same. Change is necessary, remember?
I’ll be honest and say that I don’t have any suggestions or a perfectly laid out tactical plan for promoting more creativity in kids. I will, however, say that I think it’s important that we all recognize that kids are growing up faster than they used to, and we’re pushing them to become the same kind of people that we already are. Again, I don’t think growing up faster is a bad thing, but I am beginning to get concerned about what’s being left out on this quick road to adulthood. Maybe I need to accept that kids are just going to keep growing up this way, or maybe I have a good point. Who knows? The important thing here is that we have these conversations, because if we don’t see a variety of perspectives then we aren’t going anywhere. I challenge you to recognize your role in a child’s life. Are you teaching them to use their minds, or are you showing them how to think like you? Are you facilitating their ideas or leading them through each step of the process? We need to let kids act, think, and grow like kids and not like adults so that as they get older they continue to think outside the box.
I have this theory that adults don’t listen to kids enough. I realize how arrogant and naive that sounds coming from a kid, but I really believe the world is missing out by telling those of us still in school that we need to wait to have our voices heard. I could go on for days about why my 10 year old cousin’s ideas are better than mine, but that’s not what I’m writing about today. *sigh* Personalized learning has become a rather hot topic recently, and day after day I find myself increasingly more frustrated with the fact that adults are the only ones talking about it. My classmates have never even heard the two words used together, and here I am reaping the benefits of it every day. So back to this adults not listening to kids idea; they also don’t like to tell us stuff. It’s as if us knowing that there are other ways to do school than the traditional classroom will suddenly lead to an imbalance of power. So, because I have rarely seen the student side of personalized learning in word form, and because I believe that if I’m going to complain about it I had better do my part to fix it, here it is:
I’m about to sound like one of those weight loss commercials, “I lost 15 pounds with ____ and you can too!” Bear with me.
Personalized learning. Do it. Here’s my story: Last year I took a class called Engaged Citizenship. My summary of the syllabus is, “Find something you want to fix in your community and do what it takes to fix it. I’ll figure out how to grade you. Do some good.” I’ll admit, it’s scary to be left to structure 8,100 hours of your year with that much direction, but I can proudly say that we did it! A couple classmates and I managed to raise awareness for a nonprofit organization in our community working to build a track and football field for our school along with hold a few fundraisers and solicit some rather large donations. It would be easy to say that my biggest take-away was the good we did for the cause, but selfishly I know that isn’t true. That class taught me that you can learn so much more when you don’t mean to than when you’re trying to. It taught me that you set the standard for your own progress.
This year I have had the opportunity to embrace personalized learning in a whole new way. I am taking a class we call CBE or Competency Based Education. In a nutshell, I need one English credit to graduate and can get any other credits I desire. My classmates and I find projects we are interested in, or that we see need to be done, or that community members have asked us to take on, and we just do them. Later we sit down and look at standards laid out in the Iowa Core Curriculum and match up what we have done to standards. We will not be given grades, but I can say that I have completed an English class this semester which meets well over 20 literacy standards. (In this process I found that not many of my peers realize that our teachers are required by law to teach us certain things. To me that’s just messed up. You know iowacore.gov? Yeah it shows up in my browser history more than YouTube, but why shouldn’t it?)
Why should a teacher choose to facilitate personalized learning in their classroom? Why should they give up control for a bunch of completely different projects which will of course be horrible to grade, and risk losing the structure of their classes for total and complete chaos? Because teachers care, and students need to learn to be thinkers. It is plain and simple. If we are going to be completely honest with ourselves then we can say that there are few teachers that pursue education to get rich and retire early. Teaching is a profession that’s more about passion than paychecks, and while we’re on the topic, isn’t that how it should be? Shouldn’t we go through every day with goals that build us up and help something or someone improve?
It’s time for me to be real with you now. It would be so much easier to just keep things the way they are. This isn’t something that just happens, but it is something I think needs to happen. It’s important that the next generation of adults (that’s us) knows how to follow instructions, but I saw something today that said 65% of us will have jobs in fields that don’t even exist yet. Whether that’s true or not, it gets me thinking. Yes, we need to know about how our world works now, but we also are going to need to be ready to learn as we go. Right now, we’re at the risk of becoming adults who are way too skilled in the art of memorizing, regurgitating, and forgetting. If we learn how to be learners, problem solvers, question askers, thinkers, and communicators, however, it’ll be close to impossible to throw us a curveball we can’t hit. I’ll call my own bluff here (someone has to), personalized learning isn’t the only way to do this, but Jenny Craig isn’t the best weight loss program for everyone either.
Our elders are taught to look down on my generation as a bunch of rotten, spoiled kids who only care to have our noses in four inch screens and our butts in comfortable chairs. They call us disrespectful, arrogant, and rude. When I walk into a room, smile, and shake the hand of an adult, I am met with a look of disbelief, followed by a nod of approval directed at my mother who walked in behind me. When I call a professional and have to leave a message, my call is not returned, but when my teacher leaves the same message, a call arrives the next day. When we enter a classroom we are assigned a desk in a neat row, because we can’t be trusted. I’ve learned to stop referring to myself as a student, as that immediately makes me less worthy of someone’s time. Some days I can’t wait to get wrinkles. I guess what I’m asking for, is for everyone to give us a chance and to try a little harder to say yes sometimes.
So often my peers and I hear that, “At the rate we’re going, our world will be a disaster when we are adults,” but I beg you to give us more credit than that. After all, we’re the kids with the world at our fingertips. We can get a hold of information faster than we’ve ever been able to before, and you’re telling us to slow down. You might roll your eyes when we spend hours on the internet talking to people we’ve never met and researching places we’ve never been, but why shouldn’t we use this amazing tool every chance we get? Think of it this way… you’re not going to move a pile of rocks with a shovel when you’ve got a skid loader next to you. If my class is researching the education system in Botswana, I guarantee we can be on the phone with an English classroom in the country tomorrow. Tell me that’s making me less social. It’s all about how you use these amazing tools. Why spend time memorizing things that would be easier to just search, when we should be learning how to work together, get things done, think creatively, manage our time, or talk to strangers? Now there’s something google doesn’t do better.
If I have learned anything about people in my short eighteen years of life, it is that we love to focus on the negative. The very world we live in screams no. No, the average person cannot aspire to be a CEO or MVP. No, a child cannot approach an adult for an intelligent conversation. No to out-of-the-box thinking, to singing at the dinner table, to wearing polkadots with plaid. I know a lot of people would say my generation will only push this world closer to the inevitable hell we all seem to think we’re headed for, but us? We “millennials”… we think they’re dead wrong, and I think for once there’s something to be learned from us. All we say is yes.
I’m not asking a lot from you, I swear. All the world needs is a little more open-mindedness. So here’s where we start. “Hey dad, what are you working on?” Don’t say it… don’t say you’re just finishing up some things for a project. Don’t say, “Give me five minutes and we can watch that movie together.” Tell me you’re pricing wood flooring alternatives because right now you’re $5,000 over budget and they need the quote tomorrow, because you know what? I probably wasn’t going to hear about that in 4th period economics. We need to know how the real world works and that’s something we can’t just look up. I mean yeah, we can google it in like three seconds, but google isn’t going to recommend we always order from the Carpetland one town over because they’re more reliable than the Carpet One next door.
As much as you think we only enjoy staring at our screens, you couldn’t be more wrong. Humans are knowledge hungry, every last one of us. I’m not saying we don’t need to know how to do things the long way, and I’m not saying 24/7 screen time is a good thing. What is a good thing, though, is the slow with the fast, the old with the new, and people of all ages working together. We youngsters need more work on our face-to-face stuff, and grandma, I’ve told you a million times that typing an entire sentence into google isn’t going to get you anything good, no matter how well you punctuate it.
Perhaps if given a little responsibility or even just a little faith, my “ungrateful and useless” generation can be part of the solution, not the root of the problem. It’s time to realise we are in a world where yes we can is the only answer. A world where answers practically precede questions, so we need to embrace the simplicity and use it to grow. All we can ask for from you is a little more optimism and a lot more faith in us. We can’t afford to take no for an answer, because in the time it takes to say no, someone else has already said yes and now we’re stuck in the dark ages while they’re answering the next question. Take our word for it… yes we can always comes out in your favor.
Future Educator. Iowan. Passionate about People.
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