It might seem obvious what the mission of formal education is: Facilitate the effective learning of students consistent with the learning objectives based upon state (or national) standards. And of course, this is important, especially the implications for the adjective, effective. But whether you see the following as the pedagogy associated this mission or the unstated but critical part of the mission, may I suggest three points:
1. The Careful Attention to Core knowledge: The information available is expanding at a rapid pace - with obvious implications: there is too much to cover and, even at the elementary grade,level, the information is often changing. At the college level in my speciality of engineering, it's thought by some that the half-life of engineering knowledge is eighteen months. Some material included in course will likely be out of date before graduation! Core knowledge (my definition: knowledge that enables the user to have meaningful conversations with experts and to find and retrieve additional information from published / electronic sources - and to be able to evaluate the information gathered to be assessed for usefulness to the application being considered) must be the focus of the learning efforts facilitated in the classroom. Addressing additional information may prepare the students for appearances on "Jeopardy" and may have minimal impact on standardized tests (more on this later) but that's about it!
2. Careful Attention to Appropriate Skills: The time made available by restricting efforts to core knowledge should be used to facilitate development of the important skills that link the core knowledge to the consideration of associated applications. For example, I would not list the names and key accomplishments of US Presidents as core knowledge for a civics or history course. With the core knowledge for such topics addressed, I would expect students to do inquiry efforts that might trace the evolution of an issue throughout a period of history - as documented through US presidential accomplishments. The ability to problem solve (defining objectives, brainstorming, analyzing findings and understanding them, etc.), the ability to gather and evaluate information, the ability to think critically about issues, the ability to write about and maybe present findings, the ability to work In teams, etc. are important skills. AND such inquiry efforts also lead to effective learning of core knowledge and some additional knowledge - because the importance of the core knowledge was made clear through the inquiry efforts! Hence the performance on Jeopardy and standardized tests will improve without the drudgery associated with continuous drilling!
3. The Learning Environment: The level of satisfaction for teachers and students with the formal education is directly connected with the motivation and resulting engagement of the students in their efforts. If you've read Dan Pink's book, "Drive" (good choice for teacher discussion or professional development), you know that intrinsic motivation cannot be taught but can only be developed by individuals. But teachers can provide the environment that can assist in this regard. The first two points made in this posting contribute to the environment as does the student input to the specific choices of inquiry topics AND the interest / learning of the teacher from those efforts! RECOMMENDATION: Don't be concerned inquiry efforts might go beyond your present knowledge; students will be energized and increasingly engaged if they believe you are learning from their efforts!
So there you have it: Dr.B's proposed solution to facilitating EFFECTIVE LEARNING in our efforts with students. The good news, I sincerely believe, is that they will do very well on any standardized tests as well - because they will have truly learned the material AND the skills to use it on those tests! I look forward to your comments and the associated dialogue on this posting as we explore the topic further.