Here goes: why is teaching now different from teaching in the 1950s?
This sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but I’m serious. Maybe my picture of ’50s classrooms is way off the mark (confession: it’s coming from movies), but I have this picture that back in the day kids sat in rows, teachers taught from the front of the class, and lessons came out of textbooks. Not group projects. Not kinesthetic learning. Not engaging, video hooks to catch attention or powerpoint Jeopardy to make review fun. And yet entire generations of kids were educated this way, and they’re currently running our country so it must have worked at least a little (must refrain from sarcastic comments about how our country is run…).
So what changed? Why is it unthinkable that we teach that way anymore? Kids used to learn that way, but I (think I) know if I styled my classroom like that my students would be asleep, out of control, or at the very least not learning.
I have 2 theories, but I’d love to hear other people’s ideas. Here are my thoughts on possible reasons:
- We don’t teach kids in that static, rote-learning way anymore because kids have changed. The advent of TV and video games has made kids less receptive to static classrooms. There’s a bunch of startling data supporting the idea that our attention spans have shortened (according to one study, to about 12.5 minutes, the average length between commercial breaks). Kids are used to instant gratification from technology, be it Call of Duty Black Ops gunfire or TI-83 instant multiplication. It’s harder for them to maintain focus on things that don’t have those bells and whistles. It’s not that they can’t learn that way, it’s that the rest of their fast-paced, high-tech lives have left them unprepared to try.
- We don’t teach kids in that static, rote-learning way anymore because it never worked that well to start with. Even though some kids succeeded in those classrooms, some kids didn’t. We just didn’t care as much about those that didn’t. Why not? Maybe because we believed that our system was a just meritocracy and those that succeeded deserved it. Or maybe because the kids who didn’t succeed then were the same children who struggle now: the poor kids, the kids with learning disabilities, the minority kids, all of whom would have fewer advocates crying for a system overhaul. Maybe the ’50s-era classroom wasn’t fantastic either, but at the time we as a society simply didn’t expect that ALL children in this nation would have the opportunity to attain an excellent education (whether we expect that now is up for debate).
I realize that it’s a little odd for an almost-23-year-old to be ruminating on the relative merits of the education policies of a decade forty years before her own birth, but humor me. What do you think? Are my reasons oversimplified? Am I way off base on what those classrooms looked like? IS teaching now different from teaching in the ’50s?
On another note, there is a GIANT spider crawling across my floor right now. Gotta love the desert creatures.