Are Public Schools Teaching Students How to Learn?

Let’s get right to it. Are public schools teaching students how to learn? Most educators in public schools will tell you that they aren’t. In fact, some public schools are still teaching students in learning models that help them to perform well on standardized tests. Awareness around improving how we are teaching children is needed before we simply reopen schools to models of teaching that aren’t teaching children how to learn. A forgotten part of the conversation around reopening schools is the grave challenges of public schools that lack innovation in teaching and operating practices. 

Reopening schools simply to have a sense of normalcy from the isolation of COVID-19 will only revert us right back to faulty models. Some stakeholders don’t understand the art of teaching or the methods of learning that aren’t truly being supported in public schools.

Annie Murphy Paul understands how traditional learning models that blocked innovation in classrooms will resurface if schools simply open back up in the fall with no changes. In her article “Smart Strategies that Help Students Learn How to Learn,” she dives into the challenges with some learning models and speaks to ways in which we actually can help students learn how to learn as opposed to simply telling them what we think they should know.  

“In our schools, the emphasis is on what students need to learn, whereas little emphasis—if any—is placed on training students how they should go about learning the content and what skills will promote efficient studying to support robust learning…” 

John Dunlosky, professor of psychology at Kent State University made this statement in an article published in American Educator. I agree with  Dunlosky’s statement of public school not wanting to put emphasis on training students on how to go about learning. The statement not only challenges methods used in public schools to teach children but the neglect of educators to advocate for innovation in curriculum that would allow for us to teach children how to learn. 

Look at the heated debate on Critical Race Theory (CRT) in public schools. Dunlosky’s statement gives emphasis to  “what students need to learn  by highlighting what they aren’t actually learning in our public school systems. Seeing parents speak out against CRT saying they don’t want their child to learn about race takes away the right for other students to learn about it. We should be providing learning opportunities that not only teaches students how to learn but how to critically think about social issues. 

Dunlosky also states that “teaching students how to learn is as important as teaching them content, because acquiring both the right learning strategies and background knowledge is important—if not essential—for promoting lifelong learning.” As great as this is, teaching and learning doesn’t just happen in public school classrooms. Public schools should have partnerships with families, programs providing day/evening care, early learning centers, recreation centers, community centers and agencies, after school and summer programs, and entities that are teaching children of the public school system how to learn. Conversations on Critical Race Theory focus on what’s being taught in curriculum, but we need just as much attention around improving how we’re teaching students the curriculum and how to learn. 


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