I used some of spring break to catch up on my reading. I am an avid reader and, as most avid readers know, there are far more books, blogs, publications and news stories to read than can be accomplished in any amount of time. Typically a print magazine falls to the bottom of the pile as it will always be there (whereas online content could be changed or removed at any time). This week, I was fortunate to have read an article by Carol Ann Tomlinson in Educational Leadership. Full disclosure…I am a huge fan of Ms. Tomlinson, having read her books and heard her speak. I eagerly await her column in this magazine each month.
In this article, she poses the question of what she would teach and how would she teach if her goal was to prepare students for the life they live today and will live in the future. In the course of answering this question, she cites the example of the University of Virginia medical school as they struggled with this question. They worked from the fact that “medical knowledge doubles in about every 15 years and about half of that knowledge becomes obsolete every five years.” Given that provocative data, what should the time in school be spent on? What needs to be taught?
Throughout the article, Ms. Tomlinson shares the attributes she would include to further the contribution students will make in their lives. The premise is that the most important learning is in these attributes, attitudes and habits of mind. Her list is short yet complex: work for quality, be kind, take time to know yourself, look for happiness, be useful, be responsible, invest in people, learn and take time to play. I doubt that any of us could say these things are not important in the search for a productive and fulfilling life and I’m sure there are other items we might include. The interesting thing to me is that she proposes that we need to work hard, play hard, learn, laugh and learn about, honor and respect each other. We need to nurture our strengths and find ways around and through our limitations. We need to try our best and not be satisfied with less, ask for what we need, and work to serve others in a humane and honorable way.
Although Carol Ann Tomlinson is not a Montessori teacher and I don’t know what, if anything, she knows of Montessori education, I know that she is right and her thinking pays homage to Dr. Montessori. We can make sure that we teach all of the things on the test, prepare our students for the next step in their education, and chase the ever-changing goals of student success as it is defined today, tomorrow, next week or next year. Or we can create a community of learners, respecting those who continue to teach us though they are no longer in our presence, working to know ourselves as learners, and getting what we need as individuals to succeed and make a contribution to the future. Which would you choose?