Google’s education evangelist said at a conference in San Francisco in 2016, stop asking kids what they want to be when they grow up. Ask them what problem they want to fix.
I think that’s a good question around which to frame education. And not just problem-fixing but problem-finding. Let’s start with teaching students to uncover injustice, inequity, corruption, malfeasance, crime, crises. On a practical level, that means putting young people’s tech tools and social media savvy toward society’s betterment.
We’ve already seen young people step up in challenging circumstances:
· the high school students who employed social media to bear witness to the mass shooting at their school in Parkland, Florida;
· the young woman who recorded via cellphone the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis;
· the student who snapped and posted a photo of a crowded school hallway in Georgia in the midst of the pandemic.
It’s true that the first two were very risky (while noble) moves, but the third is different. The teen showed how the school crowd spurned social distancing precautions to fight Covid-19 — and knew that showing any faces without releases from everyone was a no-no. First she was suspended for violating school policies, then the suspension was reversed.
“I’d like to say this is some good and necessary trouble,” she told CNN, echoing the civil rights icon and Congressman John Lewis, who died in July. “My biggest concern is not only about me being safe, it’s about everyone being safe because behind every teacher, student and staff member there is a family, there are friends, and I would just want to keep everyone safe.”
This act could be a model for students to follow. Evaluate students on the degree to which they call out problems — social ills, climate woes, malfeasance — and work with others on finding solutions to these. Then, put the evidence they discover in the public domain in a responsible way.
Skills this develops: the 4cs of critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity as well as media literacy and citizenship.
Qualities this strengths: ethics and agency.
Teach students to consider what they are witnessing — when things seem right and when they seem wrong. Embedding these assignments into the K-12 curriculum would not only show students they have agency to improve their environment, it would provide the incentive to do so. It would end cutting corners for the “better good,” and encourage a lifelong practice of good citizenship.
At a time when problems seem insurmountable, being alert and exposing what’s happening in your own world is the surest way toward positive change. “And a little child shall lead them” into a new, more moral world. Let’s build a curriculum on that.