Some students are uninterested, unmotivated, unwilling, incapable, frustrated by certain subjects, or by school itself. Others are highly motivated, extremely capable, and move faster than their peers. If basic needs are not managed and met, student engagement is a constant challenge. (The same is true for teachers, as all of this applies to adults, too.) When a student or family cannot cope, when family or social issues deepen the difficulties, the community must provide necessary support, and address underlying causes. Challenges become more difficult to manage when a student is not taking proper care of mind and body.
And then, there are the problems bought about by 20th century schooling: (a) the material is not relevant or meaningful; (b) the situation is uncomfortable because the student feels excluded, incapable, frustrated, humiliated, anxious; (c) the pressure of competition, tests, grades and assignments is overwhelming; and (d) interaction with other students is making school impossible to bear. With a 21st century framework, there’s less toxicity.
Meaning and utility: If we do not require every student to learn the same things in the same way, and allow the flexibility that individual learning can bring, and we free-up teachers to focus on individual interests of each student, schoolwork will be more meaningful.
Relevance: This goes beyond current events or preparation for future careers. Every student explores identity. It’s important for students to observe, read about, listen to, and interact with people whose lives are familiar. This is the responsibility of the school and the community. At the one-to-one level, teachers and librarians demonstrate wisdom and wizardry as they offer just the right book for an individual student’s state of mind, heritage, cultural issues, family struggles, faith, immigration status, world view, rational and irrational fears. Without this particular brand of magic, students lose interest. You would, too.
Student exclusion, frustration, humiliation, so on: We remove or mitigate irritants: grades, testing and homework. Not a perfect solution, but better.
Overwhelming pressure related to competition: For some students, under some circumstances, competition can be a powerful motivator, an exciting aspect of the school experience. This is especially true in sports and some niche academic activities (debate club, for example). Frequent testing and grading as metrics to drive competition—bad idea. Persistent, school-wide competition for a very small number of choice academic slots more likely to be distributed by zip code than achievement—not a good thing. Some competition is fine, but let’s do this opt-in. School success should not be rooted in relentless pressure.
Unbearable interaction with other students at school: Students who irritate others are dealing with their own boredom, frustration, angst, resentment, or other troubles. If we improve the situation for those students, respecting their interests and ways of learning, their newfound and constant engagement will result in less time, energy and interest in bothering other students. Again, not a perfect solution, but likely to solve many persistent problems.
The student may not want to learn what the school or teacher offers. This is a two-pronged issue. Some students are required to study material they already know. With the twenty-hour framework, this problem goes away because they can either study something else, or add to their knowledge. No need for advanced placement courses—everything in the framework allows for deeper or broader study. The other prong: some students are not interested in learning what the school insists upon teaching. Is it possible that a 21st century child or teenager is curious about nothing, interested in nothing at all? Seems unlikely. The problem is not with the student. The problem is with the school: it is not offering suitable opportunities for this particular student. We want schools to present the most compelling argument for education—the best options, especially for children and teenagers who feel disenfranchised. By forcing every student to learn the same things, ignoring their wants and needs, we shut them out. By doing nothing, or by following current practices, disruptive forces gain power over those students—gangs, substance abuse, bullying, other negative situations. In the 20th century model, errant students present impossible challenges for teachers. In the 21st century model, the job of the teacher is to work closely with each individual student on topics they want to learn so these situations are less likely to take root.