Take Part: When It Comes to Education, a 17-Year-Old Author Says: ‘One Size Does Not Fit All’

This piece originally appeared on Take Part:

Almost all children in America, leave out a handful, should be suing their schools for the education they receive. Students are being set up to fail later on in life, and most don’t even know it. Unfortunately, this generation is at risk of being worse off than their parents.

In the education conversation, we have the adults’ table and the kids’ table. At the adults’ table, adults are making decisions regarding the very people sitting a table away. Kids do not deserve to be stuck at the kids’ table. Not when the future of this country is on the line.

This top-down approach to education has not and will never work. In parallel, Dov Seidman, the CEO of LRN and the author of How, put it best toThe New York Times, “The days of leading countries or companies via a one-way conversation are over. The old system of ‘command and control’—using carrots and sticks—to exert power over people is fast being replaced by ‘connect and collaborate’—to generate power through people.”

More: 17-Year-Old Author Is Determined to Fix Education in America

We have to start holding kids to adult standards. Larry Rosenstock, principal of High Tech High in San Diego, says, “If you treat kids like adults, then they will behave like adults.” Let them act like professionals, scientists, authors, engineers, singers, and historians.

In many classrooms around the country, the philosophy of teaching is based on pedagogy, which literally means the art and science of educating children. It is a teacher-focused education. We need to shift towards a learning style called andragogy—adult-leading. It was theorized by educator Malcolm Knowles. Here are the basics:

  1. Experience including error provides the basis of learning activities.
  2. Adults need to be responsible for their decisions on education and involvement in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.
  3. Adult learning is problem-centered, rather than content-oriented.
  4. Adults respond better to internal versus extrinsic motivators (passion versus reward).

For instance, the children in the Hole-in-the-Wall experiments dabbled with andragogy and what unfolded was nothing short of remarkable. In 1999, Sugata Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in the wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC, and just left. Kids from the slum who couldn’t read, write, and had never used a computer fiddled with the devices and soon taught themselves and their peers how to use and learn from them.

I spoke to Mitra, a professor at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, who said, “Even in the absence of any direct input from a teacher, an environment that stimulates curiosity can cause learning, the emergent phenomenon.” He calls this “minimally invasive education.” Mitra added, “If you let a group of 18-year-olds in a room with robots, parts, computers, what reason would there be if they didn’t build one?” What his experiments have validated is that children are not empty vessels, waiting to be fed information; curiosity is innate.

I’ve seen it with my very own eyes. Children are full of life, laughter, and liberty. It’s a literal horror film watching that ingeniousness extinguish with years of formal schooling. But it doesn’t need to unfold like this. To stop this mayhem, we just need to make school a place where kids yearn to go to day in and day out.

How can we do that? The solution is simple—let children become the captains of their education. If we create a curriculum that stems from one’s passions, the motivation to learn is intrinsic. When children have an interest, only then does education happen.

We need to ask: What if school wasn’t school anymore?

Imagine if we approached learning through debate and tinkered with ideas by bringing back French salons from the 17th century. Imagine if schools were dynamic social engines and the birthplace of lifelong learners and global citizens. Currently, schools are like the citadels of ancient times. Let’s bridge the gap between school, community, and the world.

Can you imagine a child wanting to learn more when the end of the school day is over? That’s when we will know the system is finally working.

Adapted from One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School. Published by Alternative Education Resource Organization. Copyright (c) Nikhil Goyal, 2012.  

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2 Comments on “Take Part: When It Comes to Education, a 17-Year-Old Author Says: ‘One Size Does Not Fit All’”

  1. mrmoeschen says:

    Nikhil, I cannot wait to read your book. I am an 18-year veteran music teacher in a middle school where I have great support from my town, administration and, most importantly, kids. I look forward to meeting you sometime, somewhere, and I admire your passion for change in the world. Keep rockin’ man.


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