I had a dream last night. I was in a high school chemistry class and the teacher handed us all a textbook, not something new, fresh, or innovative, just old textbooks. In my dream, and just after when I woke up, I experienced a warm feeling of comfort and confidence. I knew all I needed to do to excel in chemistry was to read and understand this one book. My first time around when I was 17 I was not a good chemistry student; in this time-skewed dream where I had the perspective of an adult looking through the eyes of a high school student, I knew I could read a book and understand it; that was all I needed to do, and it was so comforting.
And so disturbing when I woke up and thought about it. It is, after all, just that easy to do well in most schools. Read the book, do what you are told, and you succeed. Some students don’t have the maturity to do that, but many do. What does it mean? Nothing in the real world is that simple. Few jobs today require a worker to just follow the manual.
On my trip several veteran faculty and a number of students told me “smart kids can get A’s in class without really learning anything. They just read the books, memorize some stuff for a few weeks, and after that it is gone.” Good grades don’t mean anything more than that in the long run.
Any course designed around getting through a textbook should be hammered, beaten, redesigned. Period. If schools started there, they would radically transform the learning experience in a year. Real learning is not, or should not be, that comfortable, at least for the students. Real learning should be for and in the real world, not within the covers of one book.