Is “Traditional” Education So Bad?

I’m the first to say the education system in the US could benefit from some serious changes.  However, the more people I talk to the more I realize that it doesn’t seem quite clear what “traditional” education is.  I’ve attended many events and talks on the need for a new model of education, one that replaces the so-called “traditional” model.  For example, I’ve heard people say that lecturing groups of students and having classrooms are part of that traditional model that needs to be replaced.

traditional classroomLet’s just focus on those two elements of “traditional” education.  This makes me ask, what’s so bad about a classroom?  What’s so bad about talking to students in a large group?  When students watch Khan Academy videos, the presenter of the video lectures them.  Two main differences come to mind – first, we can pause and replay a specific part or all of the video and second, we cannot ask the presenter questions.  That’s one pro and one con.  The other question I ask is what’s so bad about the classroom?  As far as I am concerned, rooms perform some very useful functions in my life.  There’s the office, the dining room, the living room, the steam room, the bedroom, and let’s not forget the best room of all, the bathroom!  One thing you may notice these rooms all have in common is a purpose.  The room has a clearly defined purpose, which empowers it and gives it value.  Perhaps what needs to change is what we call the classroom because “class” does not clearly communicate a value-added purpose.  Maybe we can have study rooms, math rooms, reflection rooms, lab rooms, brainstorming rooms, etc.

The reason I am writing this post is not to make a case for traditional or untraditional education, however anyone may or may not define it.  My point is that we need to be careful of what we include in “traditional” education when we refer to getting rid of it.

I am just as passionate as anyone else about the opportunity to make some value-added changes and additions to the current models for education.  However, I believe there is a lot to be appreciated such as teacher presentations and classrooms.  The opportunity for improvement lies within those elements.  WHAT we do in the classroom can be untraditional and HOW we deliver presentations and lectures can be untraditional.  Technology is on our side and provides us with a powerful opportunity to significantly add value to these elements of education.  Let’s not forget, as awesome and revolutionary as the smart phone was, it’s still a phone.  What Apple did so successfully was add tremendous value to this existing device.

The last thought I’ll leave you with is to consider carefully what is meant by and included in traditional education when it comes up in the next EDU conversation you have.

9 thoughts on “Is “Traditional” Education So Bad?

  1. Hi Roger! Good, thought-provoking post. I believe a traditional education, (classroom, lots of reading, writing, arithmatic, even latin, wherein one is taught the basics of learning) is a good start. However, i believe that somewhere in high school or right at college, a student should get to change that –if he/she so desires — and have an opportunity to explore other forms of learning that may be more suited to their unique style of learning. Because i do believe that each person learns differently and should therefore pursue knowledge in the way that best edifies them individually.

    • Thank you for your feedback! Yes, up to a certain point students benefit significantly from structure, guidance, and a solid foundation of knowledge and experience. Once students reach a certain point – which may vary from one student to the next – then there is an opportunity to really explore different styles. However, I would also add that the foundational education can be delivered in untraditional ways now. Like Ali said above, let’s now throw out the baby with the bath water. Technology is granting us a special opportunity to look at a lot of areas of EDU so that we can tweak them and create added value. I always like to remind people that argue against the classroom that there is no reason why untraditional things can’t occur in a traditional classroom. Thanks again for the comments!

  2. Interesting. I’m taking a Foundations in Teaching course right now on (run by the Commonwealth Education Trust) and my impressions re: traditional (or sometimes called the industrial model) education are somewhat different. I’ve not heard any criticisms of the classroom, per se. As I see it, the major criticisms are against the lecturing model. That model that says: the teacher stands at the front and imparts facts to kids who memorize them and are then graded right or wrong.While this model worked in the old, industrial world, the new, faster, more vibrant information age requires people who are creative and know how to assimilate information rather than just regurgitate it, and are not afraid to be wrong and learn from their mistakes.

    These days, there’s absolutely no reason to have kids memorize state capitals or the names of the largest rivers in the world, as they can get the answers from google in seconds (and in 10 years they’ll have wearable tech that will let them find the answers whenever they want). More important for them is to 1) know how to find the information they need for a given challenge, 2) know how to make use of that information in a creative way to 3) solve a problem or understand an issue. The traditional education model does none of these things. It taught for understandig the past and possibly applying that to the present. But we now need an education system that can prepare our children for the future. Incidentally, some very interesting things on if you haven’t seen it.

    • Thank you for sharing the 21foundation with me! It looks very interesting! I do agree with you that we need to prepare students to solve tomorrow’s problems and find a model that intentionally does so. However, I also believe that learning some history, within that context and purpose, will help students learn how to appreciate the past, learn from it, and not repeat its mistakes. If in the process they end up memorizing a few facts about rivers, state capitols, etc., then great! But yes, knowing how to find answers will certainly be one of the most valuable skills they possess. Learning how to use that data will be even more valuable. Studying facts and history can help us with that necessary practice for these new skills.

      Bottom line, we need a shift in how we think about schools so that we can begin endorsing models for the three points you made. Thank you for your comments! If you are interested in keeping some dialogue going or simply staying in touch, email me at Cheers!

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