Sunday, March 29, 2009

Call of a different sort of reform in America’s schools.

I submitted this as a commentary for NPR all things considered – well not this piece – well it was nice of them to consider it. Eric

We need to pull back on testing our students and spend more time on the arts, with a focus on real world communication skills, creative problem solving and people management that businesses will need to have if America is to be successful it the 21st century economy.

The ability to spell or add, are no longer relevant to the success of anyone in a world that includes word processors and spreadsheet programs on every computer. The ability to recall a certain historic date or scientific fact will not decide the fate of any American with Wikipedia one click away. Even the valued alphabetizing skills developed in grade schools across the country, once used in leafing through the Yellow Pages by every American is now obsolete due to google.

There are many skills that are still relevant – skills that become even more important in an economy where any job is just one click away from being outsourced to Indonesia. The capacity of students to: manage people, be creative in the face of conflict or problems, a willingness to set goals and follow them, to speak with truth and passion to an audience of any size and a stubborn willingness to keep trying will lead directly to success in the next generation.

There has long been a growing disconnect between the creative skills used in the arts and business to succeed and the skills that America’s schools teach. It’s time for schools to be based on a 21st century model where creativity, originality, passion and perseverance are the coin of the realm.

One of the key skills that could be developed further in American schools is the use of storytelling. Not the sort of storytelling of sweet little old lady at a library reading a book, a worthy vocation. But the American use of storytelling in every aspect of our lives from successful interviews, to sales, in media and in just normal everyday talk. I have had the pleasure of visiting hundreds of schools around the country as a professional storyteller and I am sorry to report that only one school had any experience with public speaking prior to my arrival. The ability to speak without notes, to as Mark Twain once said – “extemporize” or to just feel comfortable answering question in public, are essential skills to any student’s long term success in life.

It’s time for us to rethink what it means to be in school. When creativity and perseverance is our guiding light the world opens it’s doors to meet us.

Eric Wolf has a M.S. in Education and is the Host and producer of the Art of Storytelling with Children Podcast with over 80+ hour long interviews on how to use storytelling in just about every aspect of school and life.


hayesatlbch said...

Spending taxpayer dollars for education requires priorities to be set about how best to spend that money. In an ideal world The the R's would still need to be the basic requirements followed closely by science and economics.

In an ideal world, history class trips could be included to the locations studied and there would be an infinite list of elective subjects to study as desired.

Let me point out that I don't believe that our education money is being spent as effectively as possible. Countries that spend much less seem to have better results.

On the other hand the results may not be due to educational problems at all but may be cultural. Generally, motivated students with parents who value education seem to be able to receive the necessary education to succeed.

I am not sure that the same is true for LD and dyslexic students.Many improvements are still left to be made for those groups but I believe the trend is up.

Even with more money it would only be possible to increase the rate of improvement in instruction for dyslexic and LD students. We still have a long way to go in early identification of those students.

We are far from having the individualized student programs that are necessary for the best results. At best we have only started with programs that treat dyslexics as all having the same problems and a minimum number of techniques that treat dyslexics as a uniform group.

All techniques for dyslexia instruction have some non-responders so improvements for individualized instruction would seem to be needed. In my opinion that is where the effort of improvement is needed.

My niche is visual dyslexia which is a primary cause of reading difficulties for about 10% of dyslexics. It is generally ignored as an educational issue. If someone can't see text in a clear uniform and stable manner or gets headaches or tired after short time reading it is a problem that needs to be dealt with.

More information about visual dyslexia can be found at .

derbyshire Dyslexia Lady said...

How refreshing to find someone who is seeing what is happening around us - and I'm not surprised in the slighted that it comes from a dyslexic thinker.

Have you read Daniel Pink? He too is aware of the developments taking place - the move from Information Age to Conceptual age. Fabulous news for dyslexic thinkers because the majority of people (and the educations systems) use predominantly 'left brain' thinking. Anything conceptual comes primarily from the right brain.

Story telling can make life and learning so much more colourful. There's nothing new about it either - isn't that what the bible does? I have come across it fairly recently as a more deliberate practice - rather than if it happens to be that way. I use lots of similes and analogies naturally.

There's another aspect to the education system too that is worth considering. That it is known to not adequately provide for 10-15% or more of the population - all those with 'Special Needs'. Were the authorities to widen their perspective on HOW they teach then the special needs group would diminish considerably.

I provide private tuition using right brain friendly techniques for those with dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and ADHD. As a result, I start to see what are very often significant changes within about 12 hours - things that traditional teachers haven't achieved in several years.

But mine is a lone voice, saying the things that the system is effectively brainwashing people not to hear. I've been asked by a teacher "If we can't do it with all out training, what makes you think you can do it?" and told by a dyslexia support specialist that my methods can't be valid because I don't have a colossal activity resource.

Both miss the point. We don't need heaps of external 'stuff' to facilitate the hammering in of teach. Leaning is a natural receiving and internalising process and like your stories, I don't need much resource to promote internalisation.

Good luck with your work.

ammir said...

I like it great,good knowledge i got.carry on.

Arare Litus said...

Reducing the emphasis on testing and conforming to a given measure would go a long way - personally I have likely succeeded (to the extent that I have) due to indifference & acceptance: if I was forced to meet strict tests I would have been decimated.

I have a book review of "The Gift of Dyslexia" that describes this partially:

Please let me know if the book or review is helpful.