Book Review: Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere

Book Review: Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere

During my recent vacation, I had an opportunity to read a number of books; this is one of those books. As Will Richardson explains in his book, Why School?: How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere*, he often struggled to get his son to do school work but watched in amazement as his son became a learning machine when introduced to Minecraft. His son not only learned how to use the program on his own but also tapped into an online network that supported his learning. Because of this experience, Richardson wrote this book. He questions the purpose of school as  “real learning happens anytime, anywhere, with anyone we like”.

Although, I read the Kindle version of the book, the printed version weighs in at 51 pages. It is certainly a quick read, but it is inline with many of the concerns I have with education and learning. The book is divided into two major sections: Part I – Old School and Part II – New School.

In Part I, Richardson provided details about the number of online users and the different tools with which they connect to the Internet. He highlighted the amount of learning that is already occurring online and how entire industries are changing because of it. Richardson also explored higher education and the impact technology has had; he focused on accreditation and access to courses. Badges and MOOCs are having an impact. Richardson criticized the obsession with test-taking and pointed out that it does not help lifelong learning. He noted that because we deny students access to tools such as smartphones and iPads in the classroom, they are not learning to work and learn in the real world. They are remaining digitally illiterate. He focused a section of his book on the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) literacy standards and how we are missing the mark on meeting these standards. Richards highlighted two plans: we can spend money and use technology to do what we do better (which lately has not bee so successful), or we can use technology to learn differently. I personally like the idea of using technology to learn differently.

Because we now live in a world of abundance, where if we and our kids can’t do that stuff, we and they won’t be as successful as those who can.

In Part II, Richardson focused on what he believes needs to happen in order to transform education as we know it. He stressed that schools need to prepare students for the real world by helping them to become digitally literate. Richardson recommended that we get rid of meaningless assessment that test memorization, and instead design assessments that test mastery of learning and the ability to critically assess information on the Internet. We need to teach learners how to learn, and relearn as information changes.

According to the latest research, about 50 percent of all medical knowledge becomes obsolete in five years. So, if your doctor is working from a 2007 knowledge base, you’ve got a one-in-two shot at getting the right treatment.

Richardson has some recommendations for teaching differently:

  1. Curate and share what you know or are learning.
  2. Have students discover the curriculum are that having it spoonfed to them.
  3. Include the world in the classroom by talking with experts across the globe.
  4. Be a learner first, and an educator second. Make learning a joint journey with the learners.
  5. Have students do real work for a real audience rather than have them write a paper for one.
  6. Have students help develop the curriculum.

Finally, Richardson encourages everyone to contact their school boards, representatives, and anyone else who will listen that we need to learn differently because times have changed.

A lot of books from the people I read often reach back to John Dewey and his ideas about education. The more people reference Dewey, the more value I place on what Dewey wrote and his ideas of education. I am very much inline with Dewey’s philosophy of learning, and therefore, I like what Richardson has written. This book is a quick, informative, and enjoyable read; I would recommend it for your electronic bookshelf.


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