Preface: I was unsure whether to post this or not as I did not breach on the numerous realms which define our public education system. Truly, the history of American public education is what defines our system today (I encourage reading the recent book Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein to better understand it.) Please note, I do not write this out of complete dismay with our present model, but rather to spark thought in redefining the system for our students well-being. Sharing the positives of public education is equal in weight to asking tough questions that can longer be avoided.
The inspiration for this came from the process of a “backwards” PBL a colleague and I recently implemented with our students. From this experience, we noticed a deficit of strong processing, questioning, and critical thinking skill sets. Rather, we witnessed a desire for “right vs. wrong” activities leaving us to wonder as educators, “how can we redefine our system for our students so these “non-tested” skills are viewed as worthy of instruction?”
Horace Mann, all actions aside, once stated that, “the Pilgrim Fathers amid all their privations and dangers conceived the magnificent idea, not only of a universal, but of a free education for the whole people…Two divine ideas filled their great hearts—their duty to God and society. For the one they built the church, for the other they opened the school.”
This statement was fundamental to the philosophy of developing a common school movement, a movement which occurred nearly 200 years ago. Revolutionary and necessary? Of course. Was the call to action met with great resistance? As any revolution had before.
With such being said, here is my challenge to all educators in the form of a question: “When do we begin revolutionizing, instead of industrializing, education so that we begin to serve our duty to our students in their present need for globally responsive education centered upon innovation and thinking?”
No one can entirely prepare an educator for what he or she faces within the realm of education fundamentally or politically. Honestly, the best preparation is a support system, particularly throughout critical years of doubt.
Personally, the more that I dive into the realm of public education and understand its intricate facets, the more questions I have (and fears.) For anyone who knows me, it wouldn’t be a shock to say that with any given opportunity, I am sharing issues centered upon education. Regardless of others perceptions, I am just one passionate teacher who serves to better education for students because education, as it has been for me, is a form of freedom and opportunity.
I am a product of public education, and I am a firm believer in it. I understand, to a degree as much as any individual can, the power it holds for any given child, and the opportunities that it can unfold for a community let alone a society. However, to truly comprehend the magnitude of which it holds, I wonder how often we are asking the questions that need to be asked so as to ensure that public education, for all that it was founded under, remains as an entity which reflects and corrects from the past (“our duty to society.”) Public education originated with the thought of society being well informed and capable to vote. Presently, however, we are in need of members who understand and can adapt to the facets of our rapidly changing world. We need responsive citizens who are not only well informed, but also innovate and question our surroundings. It is only then that we as a society can begin to innovate beyond a thought of “tomorrow” to a thought of “hundreds of years from now.”
Otherwise we choose to become a model of Huxley’s projected society driven by classical conditioning, actively applying Pavlov’s Laws to the very essence of learning.
While the above thought (and post for that matter) may be controversial, consider how far off we are at this moment to fulfilling the above trajectory. Are we not systematically training our students to believe “learning” is “right and wrong?” (insert larger “testocracy” issues here that divert from learning environments centered upon the “whole child.”)
If our role as educators is to help guide students to become global citizens, than I find it a responsibility of all in our communities to transition towards a more transformative educational approach in which we choose to develop a model of learning that is not norm referenced, or industrialized. Rather, we develop a model of learning centered upon medici tendencies, convergent concepts, and a criterion approach which values both small and large grain assessments.
Therefore, who will be the cage-busting leader (as Steven Weber would say) that chooses to solve the issues which our nation is facing regarding public education? When will the movement occur to liberate education so that innovation can also occur within our realm?
I personally believe it begins with the perversion of testing, of the acceptance that our present model is a system of the past, of continuous questioning on the concept of “true learning,” as well as the removal that education is a game meant for profit (Todd Rose hits on this idea well in his Ted Talk “The Myth of Average.”)
Before I continue, let me propose the following concepts, whether you agree with me or not, I hope you entertain the ideas:
1. Learning is suppose to leave you with more questions than answers; it should be full of organic choice AND voice. (How often do we ask our students, “what is learning to you?”)
2. Our present models of assessment are reflective of 20th century learning and correlative manners, albeit distributed in a 21st century means, void of the data related to causation (which is where any concrete movement can only occur or progress.) Your type of assessment is an adequate reflection of the type of learning that is occurring. Therefore, it is imperative to innovate our assessment models so as to reflect all forms of data, and encourage innovative pedagogy.
An understanding of such means one begins to step backwards to view the historical perspective of public education. Understanding its cyclic progression, as much as the cyclic progression of our most innovative communities, revolutions, inventions, or eras within society.
An understanding of such means one begins to step backwards to view the mathematical perspective of public education. Understanding the significance and importance of causation data, telemetry, and innovative assessment models that choose to reinforce transformative approaches in instruction. Understanding that data, in any form, can be skewed to fit a desired end goal. Only when we choose, as a society, to develop an adequate understanding of research models and data collection, can we progress forward in the implementation of effective, innovative techniques and policies within education. If, and only if, we can begin to see data as a point of discussion, not accusation, can we progress our accountability and assessment models.
An understanding of such means one begins to step backwards to view the scientific perspective of public education. Understanding the role of education in defining our globe (literally) in years ahead will only progress our nation towards greater sustainability. Quality progress is focused on the long term actions, not short term results. We must actively choose to function in the qualitative and quantitative manner that focuses on a longer term trajectory as opposed to “instant gratification.”
To quote education reformer Paulo Freire, “education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity, or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
Is our system modeling the latter or the former?
Are we choosing to develop a learner who learns to question, or a learner who learns to answer?
Are we choosing to be innovative and revolutionary at a time that our students so desperately need such?
With the aforementioned said, a call of activism is necessary for our realm, and can be promoted via the following:
1. Empowerment of our educators. This can be done through greater awareness by our society that the focus of our attention on education is skewed by data of correlation (not causation), and a media which singles a profession as an “emblem of a more complex issue” (Goldstein.)
2. Greater servant, distributive leadership (by all stakeholders) that makes you believe to be “all in the vision.” Those who give from the core to be all in for others can transform learning environments for our students. Those who choose not to assume, but rather ask, will drive to foster empowerment in a tough, necessary cause.
3. A good faith effort towards asking the tough questions that raise consciousness and expose realities so learner-centered policies may be developed. A call of better questioning upon all facets of our system. This will prompt haste to the policy windows, and foster the development of such via the convergence of fields into our realm (the book QBQ by John Miller is a great place to start.)
4. Remodeling of our present education system so as to empower and meet the needs of our Generation Z students AND teachers. This remodel includes the support services, of all types, for our students, educators and communities (again, a focus on the whole child so we can develop “human potential” as Dave Burgess would say.)
5. Courageous transparency to promote a cultural shift of sharing, discussion, and trial-and-error processes amongst all stakeholders (including policy makers) involved in our students’ education.
Only when we begin to act towards innovation of learning may our education system develop the lead learners our communities desperately need.