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By Kevin Dodson

Over the past couple of days, I have been turning some things over in my mind.  Obviously I believe that education is a critical component to life and being a parent.  I have been a teacher for 10 years now and I have developed some pretty strong opinions.  I do not claim to be an expert, but it is something I have devoted my life to.  I am at the stage of life when I see lots of “First Day of Kindergarten” pictures come across my social media feeds.  With that in mind, I wanted to take the time to write a series of posts dealing with making the right educational choice for our children.  I boiled it down to three questions that everyone should ask about the school they are entrusting their children to.  Thanks for reading and please comment with your questions, thoughts, and opinions.

I want to begin this whole thing by saying one thing.  You have a choice in your child’s education.  If you assume that you are locked into sending your precious child to the local public school, then you are letting someone else make one of the most important choices you will make in the life of your child.  There are other options.  When we come to the end of this series, I hope it leads you to at least consider your options in a new and meaningful way.

Question 1 – What are you doing to prepare my student for a constantly changing world?

The world is changing, rapidly.  The world that these students will go into is far different than the world that we have previously known.  And that makes sense.  Think about how much the world has changed over the past 5 years, 10 years, 25 years.  Think about the first computer you ever used.  I don’t know about you, but I would have a really hard time doing my job on an Apple green screen.  In fact, as one of my peers recently pointed out, my current position probably didn’t exist anywhere when I started teaching.  The amount of information that was produced from the beginning of time up until the year 2003, is equal to the amount of information produced from 2003 to 2010.  Thanks in large part to the explosion of social media, that same amount of information is now produced about every 10 minutes.  If a student were to graduate today with an engineering degree and learn nothing else, everything he or she knows about engineering would be obsolete in three years.  The US Department of Labor estimates that 65% of grade school students will work in jobs that do not currently exist.  They also estimate that the average student’s career will consist of jobs in ten different fields.

The world is rapidly changing.  What is your child’s school doing to keep up?

If the answer your school gives has anything to do with a set curriculum or standardized testing, for the sake of your child, run for the hills.  Does every school have to have at least a curricular skeleton?  Yes, of course.  Does every school have to engage in standardized testing to some extent?  So far, yes.  (But only to the extent that it is geared towards helping students succeed and “play the game” with college admissions.) But, there is absolutely no reason for a school to be locked into a one size fits all curriculum in the digital world that we live in.  Different things work for different kids. Why would we not use the amazing tools that are readily available to individualize instruction for all students?  And why are we wasting valuable class time on testing that tells very little about a child’s actual level of learning or intelligence?  There are far better ways to spend that time that are far more beneficial for your kid.

Schools need to focus on a deeper level of understanding.  Google can tell you in .55 seconds who shot JFK, when he was shot, where he was shot, and who shot the shooter.  In addition, it will give you instant access to every conspiracy theory ever formulated about the event.  There are apps that you let you take a picture of a multi-step math problem to get the answer, complete with the steps to get there.  Spelling and Grammar Check will let you know when you messed up a comma rule.  (There are 19 by the way, can you name them all?)  Why are we still spending time cramming student’s minds with useless knowledge that is available in their pocket whenever they need it?  Our schools need to be focused on the application of knowledge.  You might be able to tell me what the Pythagorean Theorem is, but can you tell me why it is true?  Do you understand the concept behind it so that you can apply to multiple situations that don’t fit the mold of the problem in the book?  Our children will step into a world that asks them to take what they know and apply it to situations that you and I can’t possibly imagine.

So what do schools need to be doing to prepare your kid for that world?  They need to be doing things that focus on 21st century skills.  They need to be encouraging critical thinking, problem solving, and adaptability.  They need to let your kid fail, learn from it, and have a meaningful success as a result.  They need to foster collaboration and communication.  They need to be a champion of creativity and celebrate different ways of looking at a problem.  They need to provide opportunities for students to solve real world problems in new ways.  They need to guide kids to an understanding of what it means to be a productive citizen of a global, digital world.  They need to have a culture that understands the importance of these skills.  They need to be supportive of teachers who foster these skills.  It needs to permeate everything they do at every level.

The world is changing, our schools need to be changing also.  There is not a school that does this perfectly.  There is not a formula out there to ensure all students will master all these skills.  But there are schools that recognize the importance of these skills.  There are schools that are exploring new ways to help students develop these skills.  There are schools that are trying. Your kid needs to be in one of those schools.

Ask the question; it matters.

Ask the question; education matters.

Ask the question; your kid matters, a lot.

Kevin Dodson is the Director of Educational Technology at Lake Country Christian School in Fort Worth. Also an LCCS alumnus, he has a B.A. from Midwestern State University and an M.A. from the University of Dallas.