A week after the intense media spotlight of Education Nation, NBC’s foray into the education reform movement, conversations in the robust online community are going full force. Though there’s broad criticism of the event — of teacher-bashing, of political duals trumping important issues, of grandstanding and finger-pointing, of media’s fickle attention span — the topic of education has inarguably bubbled up to the top spot of public dialogue.
That’s the good news. But as the parent of a public-school student, I wonder how all this talk is going to shape the classroom, and by extension, how my daughter learns.
Will Richardson eloquently addresses this topic in his post “The Wrong Conversation.” His main point is, without intending to oversimplify it, that educators should invest their finite time and energy in innovating and pushing boundaries on a day-to-day basis in their classrooms, rather than trying to hash through the loudest and most controversial fight du jour. That fight, he says, is not clearly defined, changes moment-by-moment depending on who’s holding the bullhorn, and above all, distracting to the public and those who are doing the heavy lifting in classrooms.
Will also points out that the public at large may not be ready for the true education revolution — the start-from-scratch theory that supplants our current understanding of what education is: a school, a classroom, a teacher speaking to students, and students absorbing and regurgitating information.
The mainstream is not yet open to the opportunities for learning our students now have, due in large measure to these technologies, and it’s nowhere near open to the idea that because of these innovations, the best outcome for our kids may be “schools” that look very little like what they look like today.
Admittedly, the idea that schools will fundamentally change — from the very structure that defines the space to the actual instruction and learning part of the equation — can be alarming to the general public. Isn’t it anarchy? The idea that the teacher’s role may be changing from instructor to guide, that the community may be involved in developing curriculum and becoming a part of the “school” day, that learning just for learning’s sake may not be the main objective of education, all these ideas can be destabilizing.
Parents might ask: if there’s no school setting, where will my kids go all day? If they’re not tested on what they learned, how will I know they’re learning? If the teacher isn’t the expert on the taught subject, who is?
I don’t know the answer to those questions, either, but I’m heartened to know that these conversations are taking place and that there are smart people on the case. Here’s more from Will’s column:
We should all be innovating, testing new models, failing, reflecting, trying anew, sharing the learning with others who are working on the edges in their own classrooms and projects. I know that’s hard because it’s not valued and supported in most places, and I know most teachers simply can’t or won’t. It’s too hard. There’s no time. Too many barriers. But those that can, must right now. Because the reality is we simply don’t have the media, the money or the muscle to compete with the current narrative about schools, and to fret over that fact I think cuts deeply into what energy we do have to think clearly about what’s best for our kids. And because in the long run, this conversation can’t be about schools first. It has to be about learning. And through that lens, we need to be advocates for whatever is best for our kids, whether at times that might be a technology over a teacher, an online community over a school, a passion based project over a one-size fits all curriculum, a chance to create with strangers of all ages over a classroom of same-age kids working hard to game the system. Those types of innovations will at some point get the notice of the mainstream.
His readers respond in different ways. A couple of teachers agree it’s time to focus on teaching — the task at hand:
I don’t know how much emotional energy I have wasted on these topics lately, but I can say it has been too much. It is time to refocus, spend much more time on the things I can control in my classroom, and as my students say, “Do work.”
There is much work to be done and I refuse to waste what precious time I have getting caught up in what they have to say. I know they have big microphones… but we sre blessed with the gems. We are, every day, given opportunity to stand in the halls of our schools and talk face to face with the future as it pours from the doors of our school busses.
One reader begs to differ, convinced that participating in the media attention is critical at this time:
What you’re missing is that if we lose this larger policy battle, which we might, all conversations end. [To get the attention of the Department of Education,] there needs to be some negative energy.
A valid question about logistics.
How do you involve communities in the development of curriculum when the community is not confident in their ability to do so and their greatest concern is just the ability of their children to get to school in one piece.
Apprehension on the part of educators:
I have been talking to teachers both at my school and elsewhere, and maybe 1% even have a clue anything is happening and they are mostly thrilled not to know. I’m not saying that is good – but they are so scared, they don’t want to know.
Giving up on the feds:
Perhaps a better strategy would be to burn the current model to the ground and start over. The private market is your BEST hope for building what you want.
An argument for staying vocal in the fight:
In NYC, the biggest school district in the country, we are about to go the negotiating table to determine a new teacher evaluation system. If those of us who want to push students to be good, critical 21st century citizens are not at the table, an evaluation system will be created that places perverse incentives for teachers and administrators to fight against the kind of learning we know our students need.
A glimpse of the future:
Until I find a better way, I am telling people that the goal of education for the first few years should be to teach kids how to learn on their own. Once they have the knowledge and skills to know how to learn, the goal of education should be to give them engaging assignments so that they can learn on their own and with their peers, to get some feedback on how they are doing, and to intervene where there are problems.