“I know that most (men and women), including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread into the fabric of their lives." — Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s words help us understand why it is so difficult to change public education. Many education policymakers have a firm mindset that keeps education chained to the old industrial, standardization model. It is impossible for them to recognize and admit that our culture is entering a new era. What once served us well will no longer suffice.
We are rapidly leaving the industrial age and entering the information era. This has vast implications for education and schools. It will be difficult for many education leaders to give up the practice of trying to standardize students and achievement testing that measures shallow student learning. These practices are no longer relevant to determine what the new education should accomplish. Art Costa, professor emeritus at Cal State Fullerton, said this, "What was once educationally significant, but difficult to measure, has been replaced by what is insignificant and easy to measure. So now we test how well we have taught what we do not value."
New research shows that it is impossible to numerically measure the most important learning. Einstein told us many years ago, “Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.” In other words, it is impossible to numerically measure attitudes and other important traits of human development.
The industrial mindset will be extremely difficult to give up, especially the belief that all students need to take specific courses such as algebra, trigonometry and calculus. We now know that only 10 percent, or fewer, will ever use them. The practice of requiring all students to study a predetermined curriculum in order to graduate from high school is contrary to what we now know about developmental learning and human potential.
We now have knowledge that calls for a new, information age education system. The most important information we have is this: Every person born on Earth is different from every other person. This was an inconvenient truth during the industrial age. Schools tried to make students alike in knowledge and skills to fill assembly line jobs. Many years ago, Roger Williams, in his book, "You Are Extraordinary," said this: “Millions have been ruined psychologically because of a failure to recognize (human differences).”
Now, we are beginning to understand some small steps schools can take that will lead to information age schooling:
1. Value positive human differences. Identify and build on strengths, the unique talents and gifts of each person.
2. Develop curiosity and help students learn how to ask strong questions and search in a variety of places.
3. Develop the powers of imagination and creativity.
4. Make all courses in junior and senior high schools elective.
5. Make sure every student has a caring mentor to guide and advise.
6. Change graduation requirements to honor unique student competencies and achievements.
7. Involve parents as partners.
As the information age unfolds, our education system will be transformed. The first state where education policymakers can give up cherished, industrial age mind-sets will lead the way. Utah should be the one to do it.