With so much discussion and debate surrounding education reform, sometimes a basic question gets lost—what exactly is the point of school, anyway?
Education writer Annie Murphy Paul recently posed that question in her recent article, “Is education about increasing earning power?” She asks, what exactly is the goal of education today? Is it to make more money? To train future workers? Or to train deep thinkers and citizens, to develop the potential of knowledge as humans? Her question was prompted by a review she wrote in which she proposed that kids need to learn things that will help them ultimately get a good job. Critics pounced, saying that reducing students (and education) to a commodity in an “an attempt to increase the profitability of corporations” is “deeply disturbing.”
Whatever side you fall on, she writes, “the good news is that research in the science of learning suggests that one choice we don’t need to make is between a rich, rigorous, engaging education, and an education that prepares students for flourishing careers: these things are one and the same.”
The Kids+Creativity Network, whose work we report on here, begins with that very belief: education is multi-faceted and its goals are far-reaching and comprehensive. So multifaceted, in fact, that it seems short-sighted to lay everything on the shoulders of schools, especially in an era of shrinking budgets. Schools play an important role in education, but kids spend only 14 percent of their time at school. That leaves a lot of potential for learning before and after the school bell rings.
What does this goal of engaging youth in learning relevant to their lives actually look like? If you’re in Pittsburgh it’s hard to miss.To make education a deeper journey that continues outside of school, the Kids+Creativity Network use the principles of connected learning, which links academic achievement, social networks, and personal interests, to spur young people to learn anytime, anywhere. Kids+Creativity includes more than 100 schools, museums, libraries, afterschool programs, community centers, higher education institutions, businesses in the private sector, and philanthropic organizations.
As the MacArthur Foundation, a key partner of the Network, puts it, “The goal is to make education more powerful for all students by creating more opportunities for more youth to engage in learning that is relevant to their lives and prepares them for success in school, the workplace, and their community.”
But what does this goal of engaging youth in learning relevant to their lives actually look like? If you’re in Pittsburgh it’s hard to miss.
All around the city, kids are doing new and amazing things like creating robots from recycled materials at Pittsburgh Hive Events, recording their own CDs at Hip Hop on L.O.C.K., and building catapults at MAKESHOP. They’re using STEAM in spaces outside of schools and through the summer, turning learning into a continuous, evolving process—both for the intrinsic joy of lifelong learning and as preparation for future jobs.
As they do that, they’re picking up skills crucial for a knowledge-based economy, and tuning in to the intrinsic motivation and skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork—skills that are more important than ever now that technology has reshaped our world and the skills we need to navigate it. Everything the Kids+Creativity Network does is helping to reconfigure students’ learning experiences to be more imaginative, curious, engaging, and hands-on.
In many respects, the debate between Murphy Paul and her critics is a moot point. Becoming prepared for the future world of work is becoming a lifelong learner for learning’s sake. Networks like Kids+Creativity are making sure that schools alone don’t have to carry the charge of sparking a lifetime of curiosity, creativity, and knowledge.