Maybe Skateboarding Can Save Our Schools

Now that I’m getting into the full swing of being a real teacher, I have decided it’s time to get back to blogging (wish me luck and watch for more to come!).

I have always been a fan of TED talks and the thinking that always occurs when I watch them.  A few days ago, I watched the following talk by Dr. Tae at TEDxEastsidePrep.



Dr. Tae brilliantly illustrates many of the thoughts I’ve had floating in my head ever since I entered the field of education four years ago.  I have never skateboarded, but I can honestly tell you that some of the best learning I have ever done was on my own outside of a school, for many of the same reasons he mentioned.

In skateboarding, failure is normal and expected.  In our schools, perhaps it’s sometimes normal, but it is never expected. And when it happens, it is always such a disappointment.  A disappointment to the student, to the teacher, to the school, to the family supporting the student outside of the school.  Our schools are so anti-failure, it is no wonder kids don’t want to be there.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think any student wants to fail.  But I think every kid, in some way or another, wants to learn and succeed.  Part of that process is and must be failure.  Dr. Tae says he tried the trick 58 times before he got it, meaning he failed 57 times before he got it.   And get this, after he perseveres and succeeds, he can repeat it consistently.   When was the last time you heard of anyone failing that many times in a school and then being successful?  We don’t let it happen.  In many cases if you fail once, that’s it.  Failing is essential to learning, and we don’t let it happen in our schools. Why not?

The failing I’m talking about here is not the less-than-50% or 60% we’re used to in our schools.  When I say failing here, I mean attempting something and not accomplishing your desired result to complete satisfaction.  When he shared his experience of learning the trick, I would say that he failed each and every time until he got it. The almosts, not-quites, and not-even-closes were considered the same.  They were an opportunity to learn something new each time until he was able to perfect it.  Why isn’t a learning process like practically non-existent in our schools?

As soon as we start slapping grades on meaningful learning, it becomes insulting.  When real learning is occurring, grades don’t fit.  They don’t make sense.  Real-time meaningful feedback is about the best teachers can do.  And it’s something I’m not sure enough of our teachers are encouraged or even allowed to do with the current emphasis on generating a grade for our students.  If we can steer our teachers efforts away from trying to give a grade that makes some sense and towards feedback that allows our students to learn, I think we’ll be heading in the right direction.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great things going on in a lot of great schools.  But, like Dr. Tae, I think if we start looking at real learning outside of schools, we can start looking at how to bring that learning into our schools. Or maybe we take our schools out to where real learning occurs.


Photo Credit: Rev Dan Catt via Compfight cc

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