Sunday, July 12, 2015

Having Faith Vs. Being a Skeptic

Cholesterol is bad for you, and then it isn't.

Research says vaccines might cause autism, and then it turns out the doctor was a fraud.

There are countless situations in life like this, where things are generally accepted, and then the next day, someone else comes along and disproves that notion.  While I was out running last night, I really got to thinking about the baskets some of us are putting all of our eggs in.

In teaching, many of us are so convicted in what is best for kids.  Less or no homework. Student centered environments. Technology rich activities. Project based learning.  In some cases, freedom to explore, like Genius Hour. There might not be any research that supports some of these things but we feel it is right and take it on that feeling and faith that doing these things will be better for our kids in the long run. In fact, I tend to agree more with the Sudbury and Montessori models of schooling than the traditional models of our public schools.

But what if Genius Hour becomes the next Pluto? What if someone somewhere researches it and determines that actually, it hurts kids and they are worse off for the future? Would we still be as convicted towards that as before, or would we drop it altogether?

For instance - a lot of articles have come out recently saying that kids' retain more when they handwrite, as oppose to type. Even some teachers back this up, saying their students have done poorly on assessments when they type things like sight words, as opposed to writing them out.  I still believe in doing things electronically, even in the face of that. Is that blind faith of mine hurting students? Should that really be something I continue to support?

It's not like there aren't positives to more classical teaching methods. But, because I don't prescribe to them and don't like them myself, I don't support them.  Yet, in the end, research may end up supporting those as being better for kids than the horses I am backing, like flipped learning or the Maker movement.

I don't have a great answer here, even though I wish I did. I'll continue to be passionate about revolutionizing our schools and classrooms, and being innovative with tools and strategies to make school a place that kids enjoy being for more than lunch, recess, and friends. Even in the face of little to no research that supports these practices, I feel as convicted about doing this as anything in my life.  The question is:  am I putting my faith in the right things?  I may never know...

In the end, what are the things that matter?  Is it about the way we teach, or the fact that we are working hard to provide great learning experiences and opportunities for students? Should it really be of concern which method is "better"? Maybe it should be.  We talk a lot in education about preparing students for the future with little clue as to how to most effectively do that.

So, when it comes to why I put my hopes and energy into the teaching movements and strategies I do, the biggest reason is that I believe they do prepare students better for the future we have no understanding of. My only wish is that someday, somehow, I can see some sort of proof that I'm on the right side.

Truth be told, that will probably never happen. And that's okay. I'd rather put my faith in things that give me reason to believe that life can be great for everyone.