It is possible for a community of people concerned with their local system of education to undergo a months-long process of examining that system and its future without ever stripping it down to its bare bones, and truly questioning what we have grown to accept.
What looks like a mountain may not be a mountain, it may be a valley, it may even be the open ocean, but you can’t see it because your mind put a mountain there. Move the mountain, dammit!
You can believe that what’s wrong with education is the top-down nature of the transfer of information, and you can say that the cure is to form a system based on mastery of standards. You can say that this is better because you can make expectations of students clearer, you can involve them in how they learn and at what pace. You can let them decide how to demonstrate mastery. You can open up the possibilities of how to learn things, so that kids can learn what they are told they need to know in a way that is as enjoyable and engaging as possible.
You can do all this without really grappling with the purpose of education; without considering that the purpose needs to be very different from what most adults believe and expect.
What we as adults believe kids need to learn is absolutely superfluous. Insignificant. Inconsequential. Chaff. Unnecessary. Unproductive. Gratuitous. Painfully unimportant.
We’re probably right, every one of us who was ever asked to list what kids need to learn, what they need to know when they leave school, what they should be able to do. But why can’t we learn to keep it to ourselves? Because we have an overly exalted view of our own importance to the learning process of children.
Here’s where I lose people, who jump ahead to a Lord of the Flies vision, Piggy grasping the conch, demanding to speak, chaos all around him. Adults are critical to kids’ learning process, but not in the way we think.
Schools must be places where the first job of adults is to discover who these kids are, and provide support, time and resources to help them become the people they want to be.
You can’t teach children anything if you don’t know who they are. And you can’t find out until you ask.
Seth Godin from his book, Stop Stealing Dreams:
We don’t ask students to decide to participate. We assume the contract of adhesion, and relentlessly put information in front of them, with homework to do and tests to take.
Entirely skipped: commitment. Do you want to learn this? Will you decide to become good at this?
The universal truth is beyond question—the only people who excel are those who have decided to do so. Great doctors or speakers or skiers or writers or musicians are great because somewhere along the way, they made the choice.
Why have we completely denied the importance of this choice?
What is absolutely necessary in order for our public education system to gain true relevance in the lives of children is to figure out how to organize our schools around them. It is hard to picture. You have to do away with all notions of curriculum and classroom management. You have to start at a point where we, as adults, feel intensely uncomfortable: give over leadership of learning.
If you dictate what kids have to learn, it doesn’t matter if you are letting them choose how to learn it. You have taken away their ability to pursue the learning that means most to them. You have given them the biggest roadblock to their success.
I’m not going to get into the stuff that makes this blog about the minds of kids. If you want to know why discovering the identity of kids and having kids discover their own passions is critically important, there’s lots of verbiage on this blog devoted to it.
A visioning process that begins with the end in mind is self-defeating. It’s like guiding a group of people through the wilderness, pretending they are following clues to an unknown destination, when all the while the leaders knew exactly where they were going. The purpose of the visioning process in RSU 3 has been to bring us to the inevitable necessity of the proficiency-based system.
Kids, whether they are five or seventeen, need to learn what is dictated from inside them. That’s my message. And if a “visioning” process does not place that as the first priority of discussion and investigation, then it isn’t really questioning the purpose and the function of education.