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Is Inquiry Learning really “Classroom Fads and Magic Beans”?

In a recent article in the Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente pokes fun at progressive models of learning and touts the simplicity of traditional schooling and the ‘3Rs’ of reading, writing and arithmetic.  Ms. Megan Pearson, a teacher and Inquiry consultant at Richland Academy, challenges Ms. Wente’s article in a letter that Inquiring Minds would like to share with you.

Dear Ms Wente,

I was intrigued to read your article in the Globe and Mail on September 7th of this year.  As an intentional and experienced teacher, I can assure you, I am not “rolling my eyes and pretend[ing] to comply” with the “fads and magic beans” of a necessarily evolving educational system.  As someone who is also deeply entrenched in providing the best possible education to my students, I am well read in the latest research.  Actually, all of my colleagues are, as certainly, we cannot hope to improve our teaching practices by reveling in tradition.  Though there is certainly something to say for tradition, it’s tradition for a reason, after all, and why change a good thing?

It was tradition, that with the threat of the strap always looming, teachers had 30-40 silent children, acting as empty vessels, waiting to be filled with facts and figures.  Regurgitate and succeed. Why have large classroom sizes, corporal punishment and blind repetition gone by the wayside?  Weren’t those a part of a strong and traditional model of schooling?

There is a constant struggle to lower class sizes, create more jobs for teachers and hire more teaching assistants, none of which are part of the “school was simple” model you are touting.  And who are the children who are successful in a traditional model?  In actuality, that model is made only for a fraction of the population:  The high achievers who are going to succeed anyways, and the “middle of the roaders” who have an education system tailor made for them. The students who struggled in the traditional model, well, they still struggle.

An opinion piece on ‘fads and magic beans’ is a gimmick in itself.  In a time where the Globe and Mail itself can be accessed and downloaded in a myriad of ways, we are certainly not living in the simple times of milkmen and time for the morning paper.  The Globe has changed its distribution and reporting practices, to keep up with the 21 century.  If nothing else, education practices should reflect the times in which we live.  You many call 21st century learning a fad, but in actuality, it is reality. We are no longer in the times where Mr. Burns sits at his desk, barking orders from his corner office.  The most profitable companies on this planet pride themselves on group think, and innovation through collaboration and team work. We would be doing students a disservice if they left school with “the basics” but without the ability to think critically, share ideas with one another and act as global citizens.  In our changing times, those are the basics, and must be taught in conjunction with reading, writing and arithmetic.

Kirsten Steward, CEO of Twitter Canada and former head of the CBC said recently during her talk at the Rotman School of Management, “innovate or die, collaborate or die alone.”  Simple enough, yet how can these skills be taught by reverting “back to basics”?

When you know better, you do better.

We invite you to see what we do here at Richland Academy.  You will leave with a perspective that does not tout the latest fads in the conservative agenda, but one that is focused on creating students who are academically rigorous but who also leave with the ability to interact with the world in profound and meaningful ways.  Magic beans?  Plant them all!

Megan Pearson

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