In Erica Swallow’s article, “Creative Innovators: Why America’s Education System Is Obsolete,” she includes a brilliant point made by Tony Wagner. He says that “[t]oday knowledge is free. It’s like air, it’s like water. It’s become a commodity.” I have never thought about knowledge in today’s day and age in such a way, but it is so true. Because of our constant access to the internet, which has answers to most of our everyday questions, knowledge is easily attainable. This is why Wagner says that it is not what you know, but how you use what you know, that is important in today’s world.
Wagner says that the knowledge that students are required to absorb in school cannot take one as far as ‘skill and will’ can. He believes in cultivating innovators in schools is what is really important and he feels that innovation is a “team sport” which requires individual reflection as well as a group effort. Wagner names five ways in which our education system is “stunting innovation,” but one particular factor stands out the most to me. It is the fact that “learning is profoundly passive,” and what he means by this that we behave like consumers in the classroom. We consume knowledge rather than focusing on creation. I could not agree with this point more. We are spoon fed information, required to regurgitate it, and if we do this well, we are considered successful. Looking back on my entire schooling career. I realize that I hardly even questioned what I was learning or why I was learning it. Sure, I had my moments of saying “Why am I learning this? This is so stupid and I am never going to need this information in the ‘real world’.” However, I still accepted it as a part of life. Memorizing the periodic table of elements or learning all the state capitals was just a harsh reality. But honestly, how much of that have I actually retained? Not much.
Another point Wagner raises is that “risk aversion is the norm.” Students are constantly penalized for mistakes and most of the time spent in the classroom involves students trying to crack the code on what kind of work their teacher wants them to hand in. I strongly identify with this point because from personal experience, I have had teachers humiliate me and my fellow classmates when we were wrong. There were times when I was forced to go to the blackboard and do a math problem in front of the entire class, not knowing what I was doing. These episodes often ended up in tears of embarrassment and shame, and all this did was encourage me not to try. It taught me that if I do not understand something, I am just not up to speed with everyone else and I will pay for this terrible mistake. I am so pleased to read an article like this and to learn that there are many people out there, like Wagner, who believe in making radical changes to the education system.