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Opinion: The future of education for Haddonfield Public Schools

John Medina contends, “If you had to design an environment that was going to effectively turn off the human brain, it would be the contemporary classroom.” Medina, a molecular biologist who has extensively researched and written on how the brain sciences influence the way we teach our children, is right; teaching our 21st century children using 20th century methods is putting them at a disadvantage.

As we quickly approach the school board elections, the residents of Haddonfield must consider which candidates will ensure that our classrooms have a design and an aim that “turn on” students to learning in new, different, and involving ways.

Many contemporary educators believe that schools, in light of their current levels of effectiveness, are outdated institutions, and that an entirely different mindset is needed in order to provide the kind of critical attention needed to “save” them and properly educate our children. This way of thinking does not include trying to do the same old things better or harder, but rethinking how schools operate, specifically in regard to what good instruction looks like.

As a community we must ask ourselves this most important question: What is the purpose of school? To determine an agreed-upon communal response, we should keep in mind what we know about brain research, acknowledge that students already know more than 50 percent of what teachers are teaching them, and use the power of the Internet to make the best use of instructional time in class and at home.

Simply put, we must adapt to the conditions of learning in the 21st century. The neurobiological revolution has resulted in our learning more about how the human brain functions in the last twenty years than we did in the previous two hundred years. Too much instructional time is lost to total group review; too little time is provided for small-group and independent learning. We should be taking advantage of the Internet’s energy and capacity as the base for acquiring the skills needed to navigate and succeed in this century’s economy. Schools must do a better job of providing methods for problem solving, teaming, critical and creative thinking, and seeing and grasping patterns in huge swaths of information.

Further, we have to create and maintain the kind of learning culture that is characteristic of most successful school systems: heavy investment in the knowledge and skill development of teachers and school leaders, focus on equalizing access and resources, and broadened definitions of a “good” education. Today, opportunities to learn are exploding — they are available by way of virtual-school, home schools, massive open online courses, do-it-yourself schools, and personalized learning programs for high school students who spend 20 percent of their time with instructors in person and 80 percent online. An ever- widening range of learning options is available today; to remain current and on the cutting edge of education, we should consider the best aspects of these options in our rethinking process.

And to that end, we should consider school board candidates whose vision for Haddonfield Schools is rooted in the future of education, not its past.

Deanna Burney

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