Authentic Intellectual Work

It isn’t hard to find people debating the relative value or authenticity of various school work activities.

Some think the focus should be on higher level skills.  You might find people disparaging “rote memorization” or “regurgitation” or complaints about learning “mere facts.”  You might find people devaluing spending time on learning anything that could be done with a calculator or looked up with a Google search.

Some think having an audience matters; that anything that hasn’t been tweeted, blogged, presented to the city council, or Skyped to children in another country is a waste of time.

Some think the measure is whether it looks like something adults would do in the real world.  As in, I don’t take multiple choice exams at work so children shouldn’t take them at school.  Or I would never be asked to calculate where a train leaving station A at 60 miles per hour would meet a train leaving station B at 48 miles per hour, so children shouldn’t be asked to do that either.

These conversations seem to me to be focused on the wrong things.  The work of a child is physical, intellectual, and social development.  Any work that aids the child’s development is worth doing, even if it is basic, even if it is done without an audience, and even if adults wouldn’t do it in the real world.  It’s the work that doesn’t aid the child’s development that is a waste of time, no matter how high tech, higher order, or relevant to the real world it appears to be.


2 thoughts on “Authentic Intellectual Work

  1. Nicholas J

    I definitely agree that an audience should not determine the educational value of a task. Skills and knowledge have to be developed before they are published or broadcast.
    I also agree that education should focus on holistic “physical, intellectual, and social development.” However, the goal is still to prepare students for the real world by developing these attributes.To me, real intellectual development is higher-order thinking skills, not memorizing a bunch of equations, dates, etc just because they will be on a test. If these kinds of exercises are needed to get to that end, then that is fine. But right now they are the end, which is hindering this kind of development.

    1. Karen W Post author

      Nicholas J–thanks for commenting. I don’t disagree with what you are saying, I just think that sometimes people making these sorts of comments forget that some of the kids in the K-12 system are just five or six or seven years old. Nothing wrong with them developing basic skills, right? I guess that’s the tricky part of talking education issues–what makes sense for the older students doesn’t necessarily make sense for the youngest ones.

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