What does authentic learning mean, if anything?

Jay Matthews:

Those of us who wallow in educational jargon have all heard the term “authentic.” It seems to mean lessons that connect to the real world, like a physics class visiting a nuclear power plant or an English class performing a play by Edward Albee.
But like all fashionable terms, its meaning can evolve, or be distorted, depending on your point of view. I often use it to describe the powerful effect of telling Advanced Placement students in inner city schools that they are preparing for the same exam that kids in the richest school in the suburbs are taking. That makes their studies seem more authentic. Am I misusing the word?
How do you use it? Is it important in schools? Or is it just another buzz word gone bad?
I raise this intriguing issue, which had not occurred to me before, because of an email from Carl Rosin, an English and interdisciplinary/gifted class teacher at Radnor High School, 12 miles west of Philadelphia:

One thought on “What does authentic learning mean, if anything?”

  1. If the lame stuff that passes for “honors” around here were as truly interdisciplinary and full of meaty discussion and writing as this course described by the teachers in this article, I know I would encourage my kids to take it. Standardizing all offerings to cover “the same” material in the pretty much the same way for all students is NOT going to lead to better achievement by anyone, least of all by the students in the top or the bottom tenths of the continuum.
    Of course, if courses like this were offered around here, the powers that be would have to admit that two or more teachers really do need planning time together and class times that allow them to actually teach as a team – which would mean only one section taught with two teachers, each hour. That is not going to happen around here, unless it is to be more “inclusive” by having a special education teacher teamed with a regular ed teacher in the same room with certain classes. That is not a bad thing, btw. It is just not the same thing as what these teachers are doing in any way.
    So, we would need two teachers committed to it per course, which would mean only a very few sections could be covered (half as many, strictly by the numbers), so we “can’t afford it”; and once again, we are penny-wise and pound foolish in terms of allowing our potentially motivated and brightest students die (intellectually) of boredom, and never achieve to their highest capabilities. It only hurts us all when their futures are shortchanged and we are dependent on their economic productivity when they are adults and we are old. Are people ever going to “get it”? It doesn’t look like it to me.

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