After listening to Ken Robinson on Ted.com I tuned into other TED presentations on Education. Sugarta Mitra, also speaking on Ted.com, complained that the American schooling had become an industrialized system aimed at producing compliant graduates to fill places in the bureaucratic machine that drives the society. Mitra believes great learning can take place without formal schooling. He talks about his Hole-in-the-Wall experiments which showed that children from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds could teach themselves to use computers and search engines, simply because they are driven by curiosity. He promotes the idea of ‘grandmother’ mentors who are there to spur on and encourage self-directed discovery learning.
In April 2013 chemistry teacher Ramsay Musallam speaking on TED.com claimed “student questions are the seeds of real learning”. He recommended a new paradigm in teaching, where fewer topics are explored but all taken to more depth. He said teachers should incite and encourage curiosity, allow the students to embrace the messy process of trial and error, and then reflect on the implications of what they discover. I would qualify this by saying teacher input and supervision is essential because there are obvious dangers in giving students a free hand in a chemistry lab: but agree that the principle of the three steps – question, explore, reflect are essential to good teaching.
True, Robinson, Mitra, and Musallam are criticising the educational failings of American schools. Their talks are not necessarily relevant to what is the norm in Australia. Neither may they represent what is happening in the best of American schools for I am sure there are many American schools where innovation is not suppressed. With a quick web search you can find information on American schools with excellent specialised programs in science and mathematics while others specialize in the Arts, Humanities or Sport.