Most educators are familiar with the often provocative and contrarian views of author Alfie Kohn. Kohn is the author of 12 books about education and human behavior, including “The Schools Our Children Deserve,” “The Homework Myth,” and “The Myth of the Spoiled Child.”

I enjoy reading Alfie Kohn because he challenges my thinking. He is unapologetic when criticizing many of the current paradigms related to the education of America’s children. His passion for the welfare of kids blazes throughout his books and dozens of published articles and blog posts. Whether you agree with his positions or not, you have to respect his thoughtful reasoning, solid research, and pragmatic conclusions.

You can access most of his more popular articles on his website (HERE).

I want to share an article he originally published in 2013. In this post, Alfie Kohn argues against the current inclination to try to devise specific policies and practices to direct every aspect of education. Rather, Kohn asserts that learning is often messy. He then proposes a few core principles, from which we can build upon in creating the type of schools our students deserve.

Here is Kohn’s proposed list of such principles, which he hopes will start a conversation among educators, parents, and (let’s not forget) the students themselves:

  1. Learning should be organized around problems, projects, and (students’) questions – not around lists of facts or skills, or separate disciplines.
  2. Thinking is messy; deep thinking is really messy. Therefore beware prescriptive standards and outcomes that are too specific and orderly.
  3. The primary criterion for what we do in schools: How will this affect kids’ interest in the topic (and their excitement about learning more generally)?
  4. If students are “off task,” the problem may be with the task, not with the kids.
  5. In outstanding classrooms, teachers do more listening than talking, and students do more talking than listening. Terrific teachers often have teeth marks on their tongues.
  6. Children learn how to make good decisions by making decisions, not by following directions.
  7. When we aren’t sure how to solve a problem relating to curriculum, pedagogy, or classroom conflict, the best response is often to ask the kids.
  8. The more focused we are on kids’ “behaviors,” the more we end up missing the kids themselves – along with the needs, motives, and reasons that underlie their actions.
  9. If students are rewarded or praised for doing something (e.g., reading, solving problems, being kind), they’ll likely lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward.
  10. The more that students are led to focus on how well they’re doing in school, the less engaged they’ll tend to be with what they’re doing in school.
  11. All learning can be assessed, but the most important kinds of learning are very difficult to measure – and the quality of that learning may diminish if we try to reduce it to numbers.
  12. Standardized tests assess the proficiencies that matter least. Such tests serve mostly to make unimpressive forms of instruction appear successful.

My favorites are 2, 4, 11, and 12. How about you? Which ones caused you to reflect on your own practices? And how can we advance these ideas in the current setting of high stakes testing and hyper-accountability?

These are the types of conversations and philosophical discussions we need to have. The right dialogue can hopefully help to transform our classrooms and schools to better prepare our children for a world very different from our’s and that of previous generations.

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