Learning to swim

https://www.flickr.com/photos/eviltomthai/5129962638 CC By 2.0

https://www.flickr.com/photos/eviltomthai/5129962638 CC By 2.0

I remember laughing when our teacher taught us that fish swim in schools. You know how kindergarten students think, right? Naturally, I wondered which classroom at my school held the aquarium? Would dolphins be there too? Then came the cruelest lesson of all; dolphins are not fish. Why was I even there?

All these years later, I understand that we were the fish in that educational ocean. We were taught to swim in a school at school zigging back and forth as if in a constantly choreographed current. Sit here, read this, write this, stand here, go there, eat, play, run, think, solve this, and repeat.

We were learning to swim in our little school to survive life. Zagging in and out of the doors and halls from class to class like small fish between coral reefs and vegetation.

We swam for all of our might and soon discovered 2 things; the current kept getting stronger, and that danger was always lurking in the water. Without learning to swim, we were at risk of being singled out, devoured, or even worse, drowning. Yup, fish can drown…kinda.

The reality that fish can drown(suffocate) makes me think that even when students seem like they are swimming along fine, they could still be at risk. How we teach our learners to swim and navigate the waters comes with equal parts skill, frustration, and grace too (thanks to the Tragically Hip). So are we teaching our students to swim for their lives, or are we over fishing them to death with rote lessons, busy work, and too many assessments?

When Giovanni Caboto, aka John Cabot, and his crew discovered the rich stocks of cod fish off of the Grand Banks he told the King of England that there would be enough fish to feed the kingdom until the end of time.

Little did he know that within a 500 hundred years, the Grand Banks would become over fished and the cod population was nearly decimated. The lessons learned over the past two hundred years in education are caught in a similar net.

Our students are over tested. The system has cast the same catch-all nets for too long. They feel too much stress, and they see the world of their future as a total mess. The oceans they’re inheriting are clogged with the debris left behind by their predecessors. Remember, these are the same people who gave us standardized testing, drill and kill Math, regurgitated learning, and grammar police state nightmares in both official languages.

Ironically now, there is also a figurative and literal garbage patch to clean up thanks to current education systems and its ancestors. What was once a thriving home full of opportunities and diversity is now a murky, polluted, and estranged place. Insert image of bleached coral here.

What I fear the most is that our students’ reasons for learning are disappearing like the cod on the Grand Banks. Without an intervention, the desire to learn that is coded into our youth faces extinction too. Can we revive this generation of learners by teaching them to swim, by cleaning their waters, and providing the safe habitat for them to thrive?

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Updated: December 1, 2017 — 2:24 pm

The Author

Will Gourley

Grade 5 lead learner and SERT at Adrienne Clarkson PS in the YRDSB. Focused on disruptive, divergent, and modern learning. Member of the global TED-Ed(Club) movement, 1 of 90 TED Ed Innovative Educators, and Global Math Project Ambassador. Twitter @willgourley Proudly blogging here and at https://escheweducationalist.wordpress.com/

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