But if we’re interested in preparing kids to be active participants in a democracy, we must focus not only on what they know but on what they’re inclined to do. And the desire to participate depends on the opportunity afforded them while they’re young. In plain language, the way children learn to make good decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions. And not by memorizing the names of the authors of the Federalist Papers.
It’s odd, therefore, as educator Shelley Berman once observed, that “we teach reading, writing, and math by having students do them, but we teach democracy by lecture.” In fact, it’s not only odd – it’s counterproductive. Factual knowledge may or may not be necessary for meaningful citizenship, but it surely isn’t sufficient.
The assurance that “the child will be the customer” underscores the belief – shared by many in and out of education reform and education technology – that education is simply a transaction: an individual’s decision-making in a “marketplace of ideas.” (There is no community, no public responsibility, no larger civic impulse for early childhood education here. It’s all about private schools offering private, individual benefits.)
This idea that “the child will be the customer” is, of course, also a nod to “personalized learning” as well, as is the invocation of a “Montessori-inspired” model. As the customer, the child will be tracked and analyzed, her preferences noted so as to make better recommendations to up-sell her on the most suitable products. And if nothing else, Montessori education in the United States is full of product recommendations.
“Over the years, I’ve come to believe that the more the writing I ask students to do in the classroom can mirror the world outside our classroom walls, the better served my students will be.”
“Yet if I had to choose just one technology tool I could not live without, it would be blogging, hands-down. It’s not even close.”
Because blogging feels less formal than a traditional essay, students are more willing to experiment with and find their voices. Blogging feels personal, and thus, the person behind the writing shines through in ways that paper keeps hidden.
When students blog, they learn how to use hyperlinks and visual media to support their ideas. They learn how to use categories and tags to help their readers find their work more easily. And when students practice commenting on each other’s blog posts, they also learn how to engage in civil and thoughtful discourse in an online environment. Our students today could be engaged citizens or thoughtless trolls (and everything in between). I think we all know which would be better for the future of civic discourse.