This Idea Must Die – Education Edition

In March 2015, the highly entertaining and thought-provoking guys at the Freakonomics podcast aired an episode titled This Idea Must Die. In it, they interviewed scientists about which commonly held ideas, previously supported by research, they felt should “die”. In many cases, these myths and misconceptions were keeping people from investigating other avenues; in others people were misinterpreting a finding that held them back from truly understanding the purpose of the study. Freakonomics is one of the podcasts on my favourites list that I never miss, even if it might take me a few weeks to catch up…

As usual, I thought about how this idea might translate into an educational setting. What firmly held beliefs do we have in education or about education that are holding us back from delivering quality, meaningful instruction to our students? I’ve come up with six that I think should die; let me know if you can think of others!

  1. Report cards three (or two) times a year only. Student progress should be ongoing and definitely should not be something mysterious and surprising at the end of the term. When a student receives his or report card it should be more like, “yeah, that’s what I was expecting”. More about feedback, but for teachers – if they don’t know how to improve, how can they teach improvement?.
  2. Percentage marks to represent an entire semester of learning. This is obviously an extension of number one, but exactly what does 79% tell you? Absolutely nothing. Even if comments are included with a mark, students and parents usually read the mark and that’s about as far as they go. What if a report card was a checklist of what the student could or could not do? More about removing grades from schools.
  3. Everybody learning the same thing at the same time. If every student is a unique individual, why are they learning the same thing at the same time as the rest of the class? I don’t mean that every student shouldn’t learn math, for instance, only that we should not be teaching to the middle, at the expense of the lower and upper ends of the class. An interesting graphic of a manageable one-page student profile idea.
  4. No choice in what students learn. Although related to number three, this is one step better. Essentially, I believe that students need literacy and numeracy. Beyond that, at a certain stage in education, students should have more say in what they want to learn about. More about autonomy.

  5. Theoretical, deskbased learning instead of authentic, experiential learning. I get that in today’s litigious climate, most of the reason why students spend a good part of their day in their desks is because of the time, effort, and cost of sending students on field trips, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t better ways to make education more meaningful. For a nice summary of what it means to provide authentic assessment.
  6. The idea that a teacher’s responsibilities start and end with students in the classroom. Sometimes I feel like I’m just an expensive babysitter; after all, how many teachers have encountered surprise when they explain that they arrive at school before 9:00 a.m. and often stay after 5:00 p.m. on a daily basis? Teaching is more than delivering learning, it’s planning, assessing, meeting individual needs, coaching, professional developing, and much more. For more information about how many hours teachers work in an average week (in England, but similar findings in North America).

I’d love to hear what your “ideas that must die” are!


Leave a Reply