Former history teacher J. Marcus Patton is writing a book, “History is Story: Reforming the Way Teach and Learn About Ourselves in the Information Age.”
Here is an essay that he wrote: (You can read more by him at his blog.)
By J. Marcus Patton
This year’s debate over charter schools proved one thing – that Georgians want reform in education. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity.
We certainly need school reform that will prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century. We need cutting-edge technology for students who live in an increasingly technological age. We need research-based, data-driven policy initiatives in improving education. But in the drive to discover new methods to serve our fast-moving era, we should not forget that human nature is relatively constant.
Thousands of years before televisions or computers or smart phones were conceived, human beings gathered around fires to learn from each other. Curious by nature, intelligent, discerning, and innately social creatures, human beings created the perfect means for sharing knowledge. Storytelling was the foundation of our first educational system – the oral tradition – and it still frames the way we learn.
People learn through stories. We may memorize lists of facts and formulas for solving problems, use acronyms, logos, and jingles to jog our memories, but we understand information in the context of a narrative. Stories are how we make sense of the world.
As a history teacher for many years, I had the pleasure of sharing good stories with a generation or so of young learners. But to my great frustration, the data that was gathered on my students’ performance was based not on their ability to make sense of the world through what they had learned in my class. It was on their ability to recognize factoids on a standardized test and guess the answer that some faceless state bureaucrat had deemed to be correct.
Today we are swimming in a sea of information, and knowing how to make sense of it is possibly the most important skill a student can acquire in school. It is far less important that a student know the same things as every other student in the state, and far more important that students learn how to find information, evaluate what they have learned, and be able to articulate a conclusion from their research that is based on reliable evidence.
We have been teaching history students how to win a trivia contest. We need to teach them how to be experts in the use of information. And while information can be used in an infinite variety of ways, the time-tested, universally recognized narrative form provides a natural structure for students to use in demonstrating what they have learned. This is certainly true in the discipline of history. I believe the same principle applies in other fields of study as well.
For too long, we have clung to the idea that there is a set body of knowledge that is essential for a person to acquire in order to be educated. We must recognize that information is a stream, and students in the 21st century will need to know how to ride its waves.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog