As I started discussing earlier in the week, Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food held some amazing insights for me into the world of food and many of the debates in education. I pulled out the envelope I used to scribble down ideas while making my cross-state trek on Interstate 40. One point that Pollan makes early in his book is that a food’s total value is far greater than the sum of its parts. This idea seems to hold true for education and learning as well, as evidenced in recently efforts at reform.
In educational circles we talk about reform and best practices and methodology for instruction that will alter the current educational system for the better. Yet, despite efforts to affect change, little real movement seems to be occurring. There are several camps of thought and theory to which you can subscribe, all proposing that their ideas are the only way to meet the educational goals of our students. But how can this be? How can everyone have the right answer, yet no one does?
Pollan attests that it is nature’s combination of ingredients, enzymes and perfect timing that gives Earth’s most nutritional foods their inherent benefit. As scientists have tried to isolate individual nutrients and chemical compounds for use in increasing the nutritional value of other foods, they have found that the maximum health benefit is never reached. In other words, the individual components of the food need one another to work harmoniously to reach the best result.
Keeping this analogy, there is no “fix” for the way things are currently operating in education. We are already trying to pit too many independent ingredients against one another and trying to pretend that they will “play nice” and create a desired results. Instead, the combinations of testing, accountability, technology, direct instruction, inquiry and other bits of educational buzz are mixing together to form almost toxic stew that is virtually counterproductive. Instead of a secret strategy to solve the issues of education, we must look for a blue ribbon winning recipe that leads to a combination greater than the sum of the individual contributing parts. So what might that include? In my not-so-gourmet opinion, I sense a combination of technology, co-learning and passion-based discovery. The most important ingredient, and the that must be the most prevalent, will need to be the student.