I love animals. I love them all, including elephants. Unfortunately, the title of this blog post does not actually have to do with real elephants, but rather the metaphorical phrase of “an elephant” being in the room. Particularly, in the classroom. I might only be 19, but as someone who has known they wanted to become an educator for quite some time I have been able to recognize the fact that the American education system is imperfect (to say the least). With this understanding, I have also been able to observe how educators react to this fact. What I have noticed is that most don’t react at all. They would rather leave the elephants in the room than help them. This phenomena is addressed in the article, 9 Elephants in the (Class)Room that Should “Unsettle” Us by Will Richardson.
I think it is important to quote how Richardson begins his article. He writes, “At a recent morning workshop for school leaders at a fairly small New England public school district, about an hour into a conversation focused on what they believed about how kids learn best, an assistant superintendent somewhat surprisingly said aloud what many in the room were no doubt feeling. “When I really try to square what I believe about how kids learn and what we practice in our classrooms, it unsettles me,” she said. “And it frustrates me.” As it should.” There is a disconnect in education. Many teachers know what learning looks like, and it is not what they see in the classroom. Richardson addresses nine of the issues that attribute to the disconnect in this article.
The first point of his that resonated with me was number five, “[Educators] know that grades, not learning, are the outcomes that students and parents are most interested in.” I can attest to this problem, because it is something I struggle with greatly. I have never not had a 4.0 GPA, I was co-valedictorian of my high school class, and I have been on the president’s list every semester of college thus far. These are all well and good accomplishments, but what is the point? I might earn A’s, but often I find it is at the risk of truly understanding material. This is because there isn’t enough time to both earn a good grade and fully take in, digest, and learn the subject at hand. It is so much more important for students to actually learn than to “learn” what will be measured on a test. This article by a sophomore in high school named Emily Mitchum also discusses the harm grading has done to education, and it echoes many of my sentiments. My belief is that the only way to fix this is to eradicate grades. You might initially think I’m crazy for saying that, but it is possible and has been done already. Alternative schools like Northstar are a testament to developing high-functioning learners without the use of grades or tests. It is my hope to one day see public education adopt a similar approach.
The second point that caught my eye was number four, “[Educators] know that [they’re] not assessing the things that really matter for future success.” Students learn how to solve for x, what a preposition is, and when World War I ended… but why don’t we teach them dispositions? Why don’t we prepare them to be patient, to be kind, to become a healthy citizen in this world? Why can’t we explicitly help them to hone their creative skills, to be curious, to thrive amongst diversity? To me, and many others, it makes no sense. I know there are excellent teachers in this world that are attempting to overcome the oppression of rigid structuring to help their students explore these questions, but until all teachers do it will not be enough. The only way to remedy this difficult elephant will be to overhaul the education system as we know it. Call me crazy again, but I hope I live to see this day.
The elephants are there, and everyone knows it, so why don’t we do something about it? Let’s grab some big leashes and get those gentle guys out of here. We can take them to a savanna, bring them some water to drink, some vegetation to eat, and let them trumpet their trunks in glee. The only thing we can’t do is let them stay in the classroom. It will be difficult, it will be arduous, but a change is possible. All of my fellow (future) educators, I challenge you to not let those elephants stay unacknowledged. We can be the ones to make a difference for future students, producing generations who love to learn instead of those who hate school. Together we can make it happen.