Friday, October 19, 2007

Collaborative learning rules the day

Individualism is dead. In our schools, groupthink reigns supreme.

Our children are learning that giving in to the will of many is better than holding on to their own personal views. It hardly matters what choice each child makes, as the results are the same regardless. This is what the education system asks of our children. Instead of learning to carefully consider choices and accept the consequences of the decisions they make, the group makes the choices for them. They are asked to check their self-identity at the door.

In our schools, collaborative learning rules the day. Math is all about group work. The teaching of writing is difficult to recognize within the myriad of collective projects and presentations. Even discipline has become a group activity in which the actions of one or few are the responsibility of all. Children are a herd, a gaggle, a flock. Personal accomplishments, endeavors, and aspirations are overshadowed by the anticipated group outcomes and collective expectations.

In our schools, students sit elbow to elbow, with little if any time for self-reflection or personal thought. In contrast, the opportunities to share, discuss, and work together are plentiful. In many ways, schools are designed with the extrovert in mind as the social aspect of learning is encouraged at every turn.

“Thinking is hard work,” Edison said. Nevertheless, thinking is something that children should learn to do for themselves. Ayn Rand said that a student “has to be equipped to acquire further knowledge by his own effort.” When they lack the opportunities to exercise this individual effort, children do not get to practice leadership. Our country needs leadership. Our very survival depends upon it, and yet, our schools prepare our children to be followers.

Valuable collaboration takes place between strong individuals with a vision, an idea, or belief. This is one of collaboration’s greatest virtues. However, before our children can be expected to collaborate meaningfully, they must be equipped with the ability to think for themselves.


PaulaV said...

"Even discipline has become a group activity in which the actions of one or few are the responsibility of all."

It is ridiculous to hold children accountable for the actions of other children. Group punishment does not serve a purpose and should not be used to keep kids in check.

As a form of punishment, kids get their recesses taken away because a few in the class are misbehaving. This causes children to begin to resent the teachers and the offending children. It shows the offenders they will not be held accountable for their own actions so the behavior continues.

PaulaV said...


As I was discussing (today) my school's writing curriculum with another parent who serves on the writing committee, I thought of this post.

The subject turned from writing to group projects and group learning. This parent lauds group learning. I could see the great divide coming even before I uttered a single word.

Yes, group learning, does have its place. In the "real world" often adults are assigned to work together on group projects, but when it comes down to evaluation time, individuals are evaluated, not groups. Performance evaluations are exactly will be held accountable for your specific job description and your ability to perform. Period.

Am I wrong? I mean, it has been quite some time, ten years to be exact, since I've been in the workforce, but have times changed so much?

concernedCTparent said...

There is absolutely a time and place for collaboration. However, it's not all the time nor every place. Unless you want to be riding someone else's coattails, you need to learn to be an independent thinker. Over at KTM there's some interesting data about big ideas and great thinkers-- they usually are the work of one and not of many. There are many occassions when collaboration just isn't efficient, there are times when your opinion doesn't fit in with the group think. I'm with you on this one. Collaboration will only get you so far. If we want our children to be individuals, leaders and forge the future, they need to know how to think for themselves.

concernedCTparent said...

Here's the link:

Working collaboratively in groups is the last thing you should be doing if you want to solve problems creatively.

In many cases, creativity seems to emerge unconsciously, often when you are thinking of something else. That may explain the responses people gave to a survey about where and when they are most creative. Nearly 20 percent of American adults say they think most creatively in their cars.... Respondents also said the ideal conditions for their creative thinking were solitude and quiet. When asked to complete the sentence, “My most creative ideas come when ... ,” 66 percent chose “I am alone,” with 47 percent opting for the closely akin “it’s quiet and there are no disruptions.” Interestingly, given the culture’s infatuation with brainstorming, only 24 percent chose “I’m working with others.”


...[C]reative people ... more likely to be introverted than extroverted, independent, enthusiastic, and hard-working.... Introverts are more likely to tolerate the long hours of solitary thought necessary for creativity. (Despite the popularity of brainstorming and group problem solving in corporate America, study after study has shown that these techniques produce fewer workable creative ideas than does solitary problem solving. In fact, people working alone generally hit upon better ideas than do the same people working together.) People who are independent or even iconoclastic are less likely to reject a novel idea without first giving it some thought.

Sharon Begley

When was the last time you heard anyone say a camel is a horse designed by a committee?