What if the students that we are looking to educate, make life-long learners of, equip with essential skills, make productive citizens, etc., are not buying what we are selling?
Can many of the difficulties we as educators find with achieving the goals listed above come down to the fact that many students don't want to play a role in the current realities of our educational system?
Are we losing those who should be our best students? Those who don't want to "game" their way through learning (How many arbitrary/make-believe "points" makes my learning good enough?).
Are we losing the students who, after completing all the worksheets, reading all the different textbooks (never covering all the chapters though), listened to the countless lectures, did all the required readings, wrote all the papers, and passed all of "the tests", yet are no more empowered than when they began to create solutions to the problems they are concerned with?
Yes, kids are different these days (and this is a good thing). No longer do we have students who are blindly engaged by the dominant pedagogical progression of: basic lessons first-then prove you are ready to move on (test/grade)-then take the next course-then prove you are ready (test/grade)-then repeat as mandated-Why?-Because I said so. What is created in this progression? What changes? How is one tangibly different than when they started? How is one empowered? Most importantly, how is this process real and relevant to the worlds students intrinsically choose to inhabit? In far too many cases the answer to all of the questions is "Nothing/They are not/It doesn't".
(Unfortunately the deficit-model of education now heavily promoted and in vogue in schools will only exacerbate this situation, but that is a post for another day.)
I believe that in the long run, the disenchantment with this system of education is is a good thing. Tackling this issue will ultimately help us to evolve into systems that can achieve the goal of producing lifelong, reflective learners. I also believe that within the problem lies the solution. The truth is that if we don't feel apart of, or are made to feel not a part of a group/organization/system, we won't want to be involved activities that we feel merely sustain it. When we see ourself as an outsider, how compelled are we to take the steps necessary to perpetuate a system that we don't connect to? Don't get me wrong, many will go through the motions. Many will do enough to collect "points", or may continue to show up so that extrinsic rewards are attained or punishments are avoided. However, if creating lifelong learners is the goal, this passive progression cannot be acceptable. It will never achieve education's goals. As such, we must immediately begin to take the critical step of personalizing education in order to make all students "insiders".
As educators we must find a way to get all of our students engaged in learning, not in schooling. We must personalize learning, not to align lessons to Gardner's multiple intelligences, get points on an evaluation rubric, or because we believe it may help raise test scores. We must personalize to engage. We must personalize to create an environment where every learner is an insider by choice. Because in education, when a learner is an insider, we have a person who creates, who fixes, who changes, and who sustains the world and the culture in which they had a hand in creating. We will then, once again, have a product worth buying.