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Why our classrooms need a regime change

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Illustration by: Maria Tahir | Staff Illustrator

The world we create is a product of our thinking, thus changing how we think changes the world. Education is vital for cultivating an informed society, but classrooms operate like a totalitarian regime.

What is the purpose of education? Is it to perpetuate the status quo or help people discover how to think for themselves? The current system is more aligned with the former.

The focus of education must be to help people find their own way of thinking about the world, instead of main-lining information from a whiteboard to their ear-holes (if it reaches) and hoping it sticks. Education research demonstrates students learn more and retain information better through interactively engaging classroom styles and talking to each other about their ideas, rather than through the traditional lecture style. It seems obvious, thinking about an idea is more substantive than being told about an idea.

Learning is elicited when people think about, question and interact with the material at hand, rather than listen to someone talk about it. Granted, an instructor is warranted to guide the conversation and to ensure misconceptions are not solidified. The essence of this view on the classroom is students are facilitated to confront their misconceptions, and overcome them by reasoned discourse with their peers and instructor.

Interactive engagement and its possible future successors works for all subjects. Surely group discussion and fervent discourse about Shakespeare, and about which business law definitions are applicable to a given situation are not bad. The point is, if interactive engagement is not conceivably helpful in every classroom, then you’re not being imaginative enough.

The rigid lecture view of the classroom embodies perhaps the vilest manifestation of humanity—authoritarianism. I cannot be the only one lacking the courage to speak up in class when the instructor prompts whether or not everyone understands or has questions. Truly, I’m not alone in the feeling, because looking around the same befogged faces are staring at me.

It’s the same kind of fear pervading a village living under a king’s divinity. Every day the peasantry works the land and goes home to their private dwellings where they reflect on life and most, if not all, will question and mock the king. Nevertheless, no one will know everyone else feels the same in private. Progress for the masses only occurs when they publicly question the king’s authority in front of each other.

The striking similarity between the timidity to challenge the authority of a dictator and of a professor signifies the drastic need for structural change in our classrooms. In both cases people think everyone else understands or agrees with what’s going on, and thus feel pressure to not speak out in dissent, or clarity, to challenge the authority. Interactive engagement is a bridge between students and the instructor across the insurmountable authority traditionally dividing them. In order to change the style of classes, we must adapt away from the authoritarian ways of old toward avenues of thinking bolstered by scientific evidence.

Some call it “flipping” the class, and schools across the country have already taken the initiative. Before there are monumental systemic changes, individual teachers have to take the leap to a different style of teaching for the sake of their students and the future of society.