Monday, April 4, 2016

Building Literacy in our Classrooms- Today!

Hello everyone! My name is Sarah Evans and I am passionate about improving educational opportunities at all levels of schooling both here in the United States, and reaching out across borders to improve schools internationally. We are very blessed to have such a wide ranging and far reaching public school system today, however, it is far from perfect. One of my biggest concerns in schooling today, at least in the United States, is that students are not being taught how to communicate and reason with other students effectively. As the world is ever changing, this will become an even more important skill for our students to develop as they strive to navigate their social environment.

How can we ensure that our children are taught this essential skill in their public school experience? 

Public Schools Today

We can all agree that elementary and high school education is critical for the development and progression of civilization. We can further agree that it is there, in the classroom, that students are learning vital skills that will help them to later be able to navigate the chaos and commotion of a 21st century world. We are doing a great job at making sure our students leave high school with a grasp on reading, writing, mathematics, and science, but are we missing out on something more important?

It is my belief that a vital component of 21st century literacy is being able to take in and process information, and further being
able to develop ideas of your own, based off of the information you accept as true. Like most college students, I went through all the schools years of k-12 and I feel that this topic was left largely untouched.

Students are expected to take what their teachers say is true, which is ok, but then it stops there. There is no progression of ideas in the current public education system, By engaging in dialectical thinking and communicative reasoning in our classrooms we can turn this around!

If we were to take on this challenge of reshaping our modern educational system, students of all ages would see the benefits:
  • classrooms would be more interesting and engaging, keeping students focused on school
  • New ideas that we often reserve for experts or at least college aged students, could be developed in younger years
  • As they develop communicative skills, students would better be able to navigate the social world after leaving high school.

A Bit of Educational History

Some scholars consider the Enlightenment era the height of learning and progression and calim that we have largely gone down hills since then. They point out declining graduation rates and increasing drop out rates as indicators that public schools have taken a large step back. So, what was so different about the learning process of the enlightenment from ours today? 
  • Classrooms sizes were relatively small, allowing for more discussion
  • Teachers and students engaged in one-on-one discussions for exams
  • there were no scantrons or standardized tests
  • most classes were pass fail, not based on a letter grade
All of these factors contributed to COMMUNICATION, the first ingredient in a recipe fro new ideas and progression. So what happened? 

The Industrial Revolution opened up opportunities for previously working children to attend public schools for the first time. Class sizes exploded! in order to accommodate for the influx of students, administrators cut back on the communication and began a movement for standardized testing as a means of measuring progress. This arguably slowed down the enlightenment process of generating new ideas and progressing society through communicative reasoning. 

The Works of Jurgen Habermas 

I am largely basing my argument off of the life work of the German social theorist, Jurgen Habermas. Habermas made a career out of studying society and the way we humans communicate with one another. He noticed a crisis of information happening. What he noticed is very similar to what happens in schools today. Authorities deemed information as "correct" and passed it on to younger generations, who had no power of contributing to knowledge. Habermas developed the Ideal Speech Situation. This is a round table environment where new ideas can be generated. There are some qualifications for the ideal speech situation:

  • All members of society have an equal chance of entering the discussion
  • All parties at the discussion have equal sway in the conversation
  • There is no "head of table" or authority figure present
  • each party represents and discusses their opinion, proposition, idea
  • "rationality" (or the most correct course of action) is reached when the most correct conclusion (or a new idea entirely) is accepted as the best option.

What Can we do Today? 

We know that changing paradigms of educational institutions can be difficult, especially when ours is so well established! But, it can happen! It starts with us becoming the next generation of teachers, principals, administrators, and parents. If we instill these patterns of behavior into our own mindset, becoming open to the possibilities of communicative reasoning and teach them to our children, we will be prepared to change communication. This change will make ourselves, and the next generation, ore 21st century literate, and better prepared to navigate their ever-changing world.

Ken Robinson has devotes his life to improving modern public educational systems, especially for young children. He argues that the way we are setting up schools is killing the creative capacity of young students. Creativity and communication together breed new ideas and progression of thought. 


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this blog post check out this awesome prezi presentation, which provides a more well rounded thesis of communication, information,  and literacy. Other contributors are: Eli Hainsworth, who focuses on how hindsight bias interferes with 21st century literacy, Jason Peterson who discusses the benefits of dialectical thinking, and Jordan Argyle who provides tools for sorting through the abundance of information at our fingertips.

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