Thursday, May 24, 2012

Making a Difference

You may have already heard about the NeverSeconds blog or the 9-year-old who created it to rate her school's cafeteria food. How after just a few blog posts, the photos and descriptions got national and then world attention. She got the food situation improved (with help from dad), and has created a way for other kids at other schools around the globe to become involved with school food. It's an amazing story. Here's one of her food reviews (source):
Today's meal was on the menu as Cheeseburger and ice cream/biscuit but as you can see I got an ice lolly. I prefer ice cream. I wish they had stuck to the menu. I did get 2 croquettes though only 3 pieces of cucumber when I said no thanks to the peas.  
Mouthfuls- eating and counting and chatting to friends is hard!
Courses- main/dessert
Health Rating- 2/10
Price- £2
Pieces of hair- 0!
This story has made the rounds framed as a human-interest bit, which of course it is. But for me there's a larger story.

This couldn't have happened without the Internet and cheap consumer technology. Imagine just a couple of decades ago what it would have required for a 9-year-old to photograph her lunch every day and share her musings with hundreds of thousands of other people. And now we don't even notice the technological miracle--that's not the story at all. The story is not that this schoolgirl is a prodigy either. It's that she cared about something enough to do something about it, and it made a difference.

This winds back to my point about the medieval mindset that still permeates much of our educational systems: the "prepare and certify" model (see this post for more). In treating students like they are machines on an assembly line, we overlook the fact that they are already capable of doing very cool things, as this 9-year-old demonstrates. Yes, we have to prepare them by helping them learn about the world in ways they wouldn't do accidentally. But we can also lead students to an even more important realization: they can already begin to change the world with the preparation they already have.

The young nutritionist created her project because of intrinsic motivation, not because of a school assignment. Now it stands on its own for anyone to look at and assess as an accomplishment. This is very different from a classroom assignment with purely extrinsic motivation, which results ultimately in a letter grade assessment that gets averaged into others, losing most of the evidence that the event ever happened. As with most 'preparation' activities, it would be entirely transient--a momentary hurdle to be overcome on the way to a very distant graduation from university and ultimate 'certification' in the form of a diploma. I hope the contrast between these is sufficiently stark that you may wonder about how we might do things differently. At the very least, it ought to generate some doubt that it really requires more than twenty years to prepare a human being to be useful in society.

No comments:

Post a Comment