Opinion
Education Opinion

How to Humanize the Education Machine

By Matthew Lynch — January 02, 2018 6 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Professionally and personally, I place a tremendous value on education. I see it as fundamental to individual success. A love of learning should be instilled in every student, and instilling this love should be one of the responsibilities of the public education system. After all, the school environment should be first and foremost an environment of learning. But when students feel pressured to perform for tests, and when they are being taught to perform on tests, the potential to develop a love of learning; the potential, even, to get an education, is so seriously undermined that it is almost unrecognizable.

Somehow, we have found a way to take the humanity out of education. If that’s the case, how do correct this? To find out how we can make the education process more human again, I decided to speak with Bill Latham, the CEO and senior program designer at MeTEOR Education, a company that inspires and supports communities and their students in creating transformational learning experiences. He also is founder of the International EdShift Conference and a co-author of the book Humanizing the Education Machine: How to Create Schools That Turn Disengaged Kids Into Inspired Learners.

1. What inspired you to start MeTEOR Education?

We started out as a general furniture dealership company, but we began to focus our efforts on creating world-class learning environments and realized that redesigning spaces, although important, was not enough. So, we assembled teams of instructional as well as interior designers, and we began talking with educators about district-wide strategic initiatives, teaching and learning practice, and how to effectively integrate technology into a space. In October 2016, we rebranded as MeTEOR Education.

2. The book you co-authored is titled "Humanizing the Education Machine - How to Create Schools that Turn Disengaged Kids into Inspired Learners.” What does that term Humanizing the Education Machine mean?

In the prevalent education model, it doesn’t really matter if students really understand what they’re being taught. It doesn’t matter what their needs are as a learner or as a person. All that matters is that they memorize the material and pass the test. Education has become a machine-like rather than a human experience.

We can “humanize” it with instructional models that emphasize learning’s intrinsic value and that recognize that learning is fundamentally human and humans are unique.

3. Why is “humanizing” education so important?

The prevalent model is inflicting psychological, emotional, and intellectual damage on many of the people it touches. One of my co-authors described the challenges his three children, one of whom has Asperger syndrome and another of whom has ADHD, faced in the K-12 system. He wrote, “In all three cases, the Machine just kept moving our, and many other, students down the conveyor belt, delaying decisions, ordering tests and pushing them into ill-fitting boxes. No one seemed to care.”

Additionally, the Education Machine does not generate results: In the National Assessment of Educational Progress’ most recent assessment (2015), less than half of students in each of the grades evaluated performed at or above proficiency. That was true for every subject evaluated.

The reason for all of this is that the prevalent model is obsolete. It is a child of the Gutenberg revolution. The print era created (and still creates) systems designed for standardization and conformity. But technological forces such as Google have changed the way we live and work. Educators are trying to run a Google race in a Gutenberg buggy, and the futility is causes severe burnout.

4. What are some of the elements of humanized learning? What do you look for?

Models that focus on the students and their needs humanize learning. That can take a range of forms.

5. In the book, you wrote about the impact of design and design thinking. What role do these play in supporting education?

Research shows that classroom design has a 25 percent impact, positive or negative, on a student’s progress over the course of an academic year, which makes design thinking all the more important.

Design thinking places designers in the role of a user (not simply interviewing users). When you use this approach, the challenges that teachers and students face becomes clearer. Instead of just handing teachers a piece of technology, you realize you have to figure out how to make it an integral part of the environment, so they won’t use it as a "$1,000 pencil,” to quote Alan November.

6. What are some examples of schools that have successfully humanized their respective education machines?

The Jennings School District in Missouri serves a student population with a median household income of less than $29,000 a year. But in December 2015, Jennings became the first unaccredited school district in Missouri to regain full accreditation. That’s because Tiffany Anderson, the district superintendent, included addressing community problems, e.g., forming a food pantry and health clinic, in her turnaround efforts.

Another example is Sarasota Middle School in Florida. In 2009, Sarasota schools ranked as barely average, and school leaders knew that middle school was at the point where achievement began to fall. So, Dr. Page Dettmann, the Sarasota County Executive Director of Middle Schools, with the partnership of Mark Pritchett, CEO of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, developed the STEMSmart program for the middle school.

Instead of rows of student desks facing the teacher’s front and center desk, each STEM classroom has six tables with flat-screen monitors for small groups of students. And the classes include children from different grade levels. Those classrooms are designed for communication, collaboration, creative thinking and critical thinking. The school’s current test scores are far above the state average.

7. You also wrote that community plays a role in this new educational model. How so?

Schools are not standalone places; the community exerts a strong influence. Superintendent Anderson understood that students can’t learn when they are hungry, sick, and feel unsafe.

Also, as Dr. Dettmann pointed out, a supportive community can help schools through mentoring, tutoring, industry tours, shadowing, internships, partnering in project development, etc.

8. What are the steps that educators can take to start dismantling the machine?’

Shifting to a student-led learning models like Sarasota Middle School or the Engage2Learn or EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning) models, to name a few. It requires new culture and skills, but it is an accessible strategy for schools to explore.

Blended learning is another approach that shifts the role of the teacher from the “sage on the stage” to a coach, mentor, and troubleshooter.

9. What is the state of education these days? What makes you say that?

Most teachers today have big hearts - but often have the wrong tools. Students tend to be more engaged in the real world than they are in the classroom. They have become disillusioned in the artificial environments that we call schools. Parents who recognize the value of education in their children’s lives often view the priorities of educators as out of alignment with their own goals for their children, in terms of keeping kids engaged over stressing the importance of standardized test scores.

10. What do you believe is technology’s role in education today? Why?

We don’t believe that student experiences with technology in the classroom should be any different than the role of tech outside class. Students need to learn how to use technology to develop and present their ideas in real world and eventually, work environments. Of course, modern technology -- like smartphones -- can be as much of a distraction in school as they can be in a work meeting or an office setting - they are portals to misbehavior if the ground-rules around their use is left undefined. The real issue is idle minds that aren’t engaged with what’s going on in the learning environment.

I would like to thank Bill Latham for allowing us to interview him. We will continue to follow MeTEOR Education, as they continue to create innovations in the high impact learning environments market.

The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP
Education FDA: ‘Very, Very Hopeful’ COVID Shots Will Be Ready for Younger Kids This Year
Dr. Peter Marks said he is hopeful that COVID-19 vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds will be underway by year’s end. Maybe sooner.
4 min read
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021. On Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, Marks urged parents to be patient, saying the agency will rapidly evaluate vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as it gets the needed data.
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021.
Jim Lo Scalzo/AP