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The Three Most Important Questions in Education

It’s graduation season again – yet nobody seems to be celebrating. On college campuses, graduates are entering an economy in which the stable career paths of yesteryear are disappearing – and the specialized job opportunities of tomorrow have yet to appear. And in communities across the country, parents and young people are left wondering what exactly those past four years of high school were in service of – and how much, if any, truly transformational learning occurred. Something’s gotta give. The Industrial-Age model of schooling, which benefited 20th-century generations by serving as a legitimate ticket to the middle class, has clearly run its course. In its place, we need a model for a new age – the Democratic Age. And we need strategies for ensuring that young people learn how to be successful in the 21st-century world of work, life, and our democratic society. We can get there, but to do so we need to start asking – and answering – the three most essential questions in education reform:   1. How do people learn best? Over the past several years, a slew of research from a range of fields has helped illuminate a much deeper understanding of what powerful

Let’s Scrap the High School Diploma

This month, schools across the country are hard at work preparing auditoriums, printing programs, checking commencement speeches, and readying for the arrival of one of our society’s most cherished rites of passage – the high school graduation ceremony. Perhaps by this time next year, we can do our students an even greater service and scrap the high school diploma altogether. OK, maybe not next year, but soon. After all, almost every component of today’s traditional diploma reflects yesterday’s traditional thinking – if by yesterday we mean the 19th century. It was 1893, to be precise. That’s when the first blue-ribbon commission was assembled to study the nation’s schools, which, at that point, were still largely decentralized. Among its findings, the ten-person committee recommended that “every subject which is taught at all in a secondary school should be taught in the same way and to the same extent to every pupil.” Not long thereafter, the College Entrance Examination Board was established in order to create a common assessment and set uniform standards for each academic subject. Couple those developments with the rise of the Industrial Era, the exponential growth of immigration, and the need to move an unprecedented number of students

Shakespeare

In high school, after my best friend’s parents sent her away to boarding school and my parents didn’t, school became a pretty lonely scene for me. Not only because of her absence and my grappling with my lesbian identity in a pre- Gay-Straight Alliance world, but maybe even more so because I was a wanna-be intellectual in a population where, in a typical year, only about 40% of the graduating class would go on to attend a four-year college. Being engaged with the wider world of ideas landed me in a pretty small club. There were sometimes opportunities to take courses at an honors or Advanced Placement level, but it depended on interest and ability — my senior year, the AP English Literature course that I would have loved to take didn’t “run.” The rules of regular English let me test out of some of the units I could demonstrate mastery of, so Mrs. McLain found herself writing me pass after pass to the library, where I stumbled upon a video of a PBS special featuring a young Ian McKellen entitled, “Acting Shakespeare.” I was absolutely spellbound. I watched the video over the course of multiple days and then, when

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