Education Manifesto #4: Learning Targets

The posting of objectives, or Learning Targets, will go the way of all education fads. And it will fade as quickly as any education trend. “Shopping for Lightening” is the phrase I have heard used to describe Education’s manic obsession with finding a new, miracle cure-all. Posting Learning Targets, though supported by recent research, is the latest “lightening”. Education will move on the moment a new fad, with new research, arrives. “Unsustainable trends tend not to be sustained.” – Herbert Stein

Is it realistic, or even desirable, that every kid learns the same thing at the same time, in the same amount of time? Perhaps it is useful in military school where the goal is identical automatons. It goes without saying, however, that that is the opposite of what we want for children, humans. Perhaps everyone learning the same thing and way is useful if the objective is worth the time and effort. Which, of course, raises serious, difficult questions. If, a year or two later, the child cannot remember what they learned or if the child never uses it, even indirectly, then a strong case can be made that we wasted the child’s time. Which is to say, the child’s life.

Certainly, high school is the best lowest-common denominator, but we need to acknowledge that it is a lowest-common denominator. And, therefore, it is in danger of being a waste of life. If you need everyone to do the same thing, then high school is the best option. But having everyone do the same thing is never the best option. Nor is it realistic. In fact, it is literally insane. Teachers know this and nobly try to differentiate, but there is no teacher who has each of their students working on individual objectives. If a teacher has three preps, and the school year has 180 days, then a teacher needs to prepare 540 lessons each year. An impossible task, only accomplished by accumulating lessons over years and sharing lessons with other teachers. However, if there are–as research says–seven different levels represented in any task in any class, then a teacher would need to prepare 3,780 lessons each school year. An impossible task that no strategy makes possible.

When I was student teaching, my master-teacher once said a phrase that struck me so deeply I shall never forget it, even though I forget where and why she said it. She said, “Have patience with what doesn’t make sense right now.” That is how life works. And how students must be able to function. There are no objectives posted for the first year of marriage. No one will tell a student what they must learn when they become a parent. Being able to learn without being told what to learn is all-important. It is certainly more important than any prescribed standard.

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One comment

  1. Excellent post, very thought-provoking. There is something to be said for ACE schools and their philosophy of going at a student’s own pace, isn’t there!?

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