Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat, forecasts our economic economic future and the need for a workforce prepared to compete in the high tech job market. In a recent editorial in the New York Times, Friedman grabbed my attention with his thoughts on “learning how to learn.”

There’s a huge undertow of worry out in the country about how our kids are being educated and whether they’ll be able to find jobs in an increasingly flat world, where more Chinese, Indians and Russians than ever can connect, collaborate and compete with us. In three different cities I had parents ask me some version of: “My daughter [or son] is studying Chinese in high school. That’s the right thing to do, isn’t it?”

Not being an educator, I can’t give any such advice. But my own research has taught me that the most important thing you can learn in this era of
heightened global competition is how to learn. Being really good at “learning how to learn,” as President Bill Brody of Johns Hopkins put it,
will be an enormous asset in an era of rapid change and innovation, when new jobs will be phased in and old ones phased out faster than ever.

Okay, one ninth grader in St. Paul asked me, then “what courses should I take?” How do you learn how to learn? Hmm. Maybe, I said, the best way to
learn how to learn is to go ask your friends: “Who are the best teachers?” Then – no matter the subject – take their courses. When I think back on my
favorite teachers, I don’t remember anymore much of what they taught me, but I sure remember being excited about learning it.

If you’re a teacher reading this blog, I hope that Friedman’s words strike a chord that resonates loudly throughout every aspect of your teaching. Let’s face it, many of our students will not remember the facts that we’ve imparted or even the subject we tried to teach – that’s just the cold, hard truth. Personally, I have a hard time remembering all of the information that I should have learned from my European History class in high school. But I’ll never forget my European History teacher, Tom Roberts. More than facts, Tom Roberts taught me to appreciate the art of learning by giving me the gift of an unforgettable learning experience.

4 replies
  1. Cheri Dennen
    Cheri Dennen says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. In a world where all the focus seems to be on high stakes testing, we have forgotten to get the kids to wonder, become invested, and motivated to WANT to learn. I use inquiry and descrepant events to teach my science class, because these are the things that get student’s thinking. I want them to be able to go out into the world and know how to solve a problem, more than I want them to memorize facts they can look up in any library or on any internet site. I want them to observe, inquire, make inferences and analyze what they see and do… for that is the real “skill” in science.

    Reply
  2. Steve
    Steve says:

    Cheri — Your mission is to go out and spread the great stuff that you’re doing. This kind of enthusiasm is contagious. Once a teacher gets hooked and learns how to build real world connections, teaching real science becomes an addiction.

    Reply
  3. Sallie Alexander
    Sallie Alexander says:

    I disagree that we don’t remember what our best teachers taught us, I think we don’t know, that what we know came from those all important teachers that made learning fun. My opinion is that the teachers we learn from (not nessesarily classroom teachers) didn’t tell let us know (or maybe didn’t know themselves) that they were teaching us something. By making learning exciting and being excited and interested ourselves, we teach the best lessons. Namely the ones that are remembered. I try my best to work with teachers to get them excited about going into the classroom and teaching science by doing really cool stuff.

    Reply
  4. John@job search websites
    [email protected] search websites says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Even though it has been a few years since you wrote this article, it is more true now then ever. In today’s society is not about what you know but can you find out how to find the answer. If your capable of going out and researching and find out the answer to a problem, think outside the box, and learn to adapt to the every changing world then you will succeed more so in the future.

    Reply

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