Esther Wojcicki at i4j: Educating for the Unforeseen Jobs of the New Economy
My name’s Esther Wojcicki. My students all abbreviate it: Woj. I am an educator who also happens to be a journalist. I think a lot of kids are in situations that are difficult for them at the moment and I don’t see any reason why that should continue that way, because we have all the tools we need, and we have all the resources and we’re just not using them correctly. My goal in changing education is to allow kids to have some control over what they’re learning. This conference, everybody’s worried about jobs. Why are there not enough workers to fill the jobs that are open? And why are all the workers there not able to get jobs? It’s a problem, it’s a total disconnect. So if they would like some of these people to get jobs, then they need to start earlier in the schools and allow these people to pursue their passions. Your typical child ends up going to school in kindergarten, and at that point, they’re still very creative and pretty excited about school and through the system, you know, the first grade, second grade, third grade, they get more and more things that they have to do. I mean, you know, you have to learn to read, you have to learn to write, you have to learn how to do all these things. I mean, I think the kids are pretty excited about doing that initially. There’s not really a problem but then as school years go on, what happens is, is that the kids have less and less vested interest in what they’re learning and so, why do they learn? Well, they learn because maybe you’re the parent, and if you don’t learn they won’t get the allowance they’re supposed to get or they’ll get a bad grade, and then their parents will get mad or they won’t be able to pass from one grade to the next grade. Um, so there’s all kinds of punitive measures forcing kids to do whatever it is the curriculum is requiring the teacher to do. And the teacher is required to do this curriculum because, why are they doing it? Well, cause of test scores and so, the teacher is doing something the teacher doesn’t really want to do. The students are doing something that they’re unhappy about and then they’re producing kids that are not really happy about school and stressed. Why do kids drop out? They drop out because wherever they are going to school, they don’t feel connected. There’s nothing that they’re learning that makes them happy and so they wouldn’t drop out if they were doing things that made them happy or that they were passionate about. Teachers will start to trust and respect students and what there interests are. Thats my hope and that the classroom culture will change so that at least maybe twenty, thirty percent of the time students will have some control over what they are doing. Give them a computer, don’t micromanage them, don’t worry if they’re on their Facebook page Let them; or they’re watching cat videos, let them do something that then they can talk about with their friends and then give them an assignment thats meaningful for them. If you can’t think of the assignment that is meaningful to them, let them come up with their own assignment. Let them say “this is what I should be doing, this is what I should write a paper about”. You know “this is what I should be studying”. You know, maybe they don’t want to study American history maybe they wan’t to study Iraqi history. Let them study whatever history they want to study and then share it with their friends. My worry is that um, it will be very difficult for the United States to get off the testing track and to remove the teachers salaries from the testing and it’s kind of like being on a fast moving train, it’s hard to know how to jump off. You come out of school of education. The book they give you upon exit is “How to Keep Control of Your Class” Total control, and as a matter of fact, the advice they give you is, don’t smile before Christmas. I’m not kidding, I am not making this up. So you want to be in total control, you don’t want to be seen as too friendly, something, somebody that the kids can push around but if you came and you looked at my classes, you’d see that everybody’s talking all the time. They’re doing there work but they’re talking, and they’re interacting and there’s a lot of animation and I don’t know whether that would be considered okay, I would like to make it okay.