Life is Collaboration. Is School?
We are the most social of animals. From birth, our lives depend on collaboration. Infants cut off from human contact die. Our ancestors collaborated in small clans, hunting and foraging to survive. Today we can collaborate in real-time globally through social networks. We seek out and are drawn to people with similar preferences, like bowling, music, defeating cancer, or hating people who are different. Friendships, work, driving, sports, social clubs, vacations, romance, marriage, parenting, budgeting, social distancing, etc., are all collaborative projects. In a happier world, marriage and politics would be more collaborative and less confrontational.
Time is finite, limited. So we must prioritize the projects we spend time on based on our values. More time at work, for example, means less time for family, friends, learning, and leisure pursuits. Those who collaborate naturally, balance projects wisely, and adapt to change with resilience and confidence, are happier.
Taking an exam is a non-collaborative project imbued with stress, threat, and danger for many. Stress and fear can motivate rote learning, but they impede authentic learning and brain development. In the industrial era education model the only genuinely collaborative school activities are extracurricular, and they are seldom graded. With academics, it is every student for him or herself. Teachers see their classroom as their fiefdom, avoiding, if they can, collaboration with other teachers, let alone students, parents, and community partners.
To prepare students for a lifetime of multi-generational collaborative projects in a world of increasing diversity and accelerating change, public education should be nothing but collaborative learning projects. The projects should be multi-disciplinary and involve students and community partners, from different age groups, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and viewpoints. Fully engaged students’ brains not only master academics sooner and better, but they develop empathy and acquire essential critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills they will need in work and all facets of adult life. Armed with these skills, and with confidence and purpose, students can help solve real problems in their family, community, and in our troubled world that need solving now.