ReImagining Learning: It Won’t be Easy!
“Perhaps for the first time in history, human-kind has the capacity to create far more information than anyone can absorb; to foster far greater interdependency than anyone can manage, and to accelerate change far faster than anyone’s ability to keep pace. ” ~ Peter Senge
I read a story way back in my youth from a book (The Establishment and All That, Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, year) that was powerfully instructive to me at the time and still is today. It went something like this. A couple of college professors from California decided to take their sons on a road trip. As was the custom in the 60’s (yes, last century) for many, the professors sported shoulder length hair and their sons, too, had long hair. As the professors and their sons entered a restaurant for noon lunch, they overheard an older, local couple who were exiting say, “I bet those two hippies kidnapped those little girls”. The professor who heard the remark stopped dead in his tracks and thought, “There is so much here to explain that is wrong I don’t know where to begin.” After a lifetime in the school/learning game, I feel the same way—it’s hard to know where to begin. And I realize I’m not excused from the responsibility of trying to explain.
If Senge is right, and many people from all walks of life believe he is (and I do too), it stands to reason that schools must change or like the familiar stories of bank tellers, parking lot attendants, and buggy-whip makers, we will disappear. After all, change isn’t mandatory so survival is optional. (W. Edwards Deming) Right or wrong, a growing number of students are going to charters, “parochial” schools, language/cultural schools and more to have their learning needs met.
Our collective response as educational professionals to our growing challenge has been dreadful, incompetent and unimaginative! I’m not blaming ALL educators so don’t even go there! Nor am I wanting so spend time Blaming or Shaming. I am puzzled, however, by our collective lack of thought, imagination, rigor and courage brought to bear on what appears to be the developing demise of public education.
Living at a time of fundamental, profound, historical disruption is not easy, but human beings have the capacity to change, adjust, acclimate, deal with new and unexpected change. Some industries and individuals have. TESLA, Toyota, Big Picture Schools, High Tech Hi, Avalon School (St. Paul), and the Coalition of Essential Schools (as well as many other schools/organizations too numerous to mention here) come easily to mind.
Yet, for the most part, many schools (dare I say most!) remain very similar to what my father and mother experienced in their lives. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), as of 2014, there were 131,890 public and private k-12 schools in the U.S. (https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=84 ) Yet, the school organization, schedules and scheduling of schools, the language around school (“classrooms”, “homework”, grade levels, curriculum, pupil, tardy, answers, cover material, for example) and the content “taught” remains virtually the same.
Now I could go on. But what’s the point. Many, many scholars, journalists, business people, parents, teachers, students and civic organizations have lectured and written persuasively about this narrative from many angles. Frankly, I’m sick of hearing the indictment and tired of our milquetoast response. I’m also weary of hearing about “wonderful”, silver bullet changes that simply don’t change fundamentals, power relationships, and continue the “tyranny of dead ideas” (a book well worth reading). Rather like putting “lipstick on a pig” as one “noted” American said! Happy talk about wonderful schools or education simply doesn’t cut it anymore. We need to get about the business of walking with young people along the road to the future that is impossible to discern to make them (and us) as capable as possible to deal the potholes and blind spots ahead.
I believe the situation is dire, but not hopeless. We can’t stay here and must shake ourselves from sleep to respond actively and with knowledge. In the next few blogs I’ll outline what I think is necessary for us (educators) to answer our critics and build a robust public education.