Saturday, August 3, 2013


by Lisa Cooley and Lindy Davies
I’m sure there are a lot of folks around me who wonder why I stick to views on education that  seem so extreme. It is the most unlikely eventuality that I will ever see my vision of education become reality. So why fight for what seems so far afield from the mainstream? Why not stick to what is do-able, and maybe makes life a little better for students?

It just doesn’t make any sense to me to be in this fight for anything but what is right.  

Does an “extreme” viewpoint only seem that way because the way things are is so skewed that you don’t notice how wrong it is?

  • Individuality or intrinsic differences between students should play little or no role in their educations. This will best prepare them for a future world that needs great ideas, creativity and innovation.
  • An approved, standard course of the  best preparation for success in a constantly-changing global community.
  • A regimented, authority-driven school experience will yield connected, intelligent and compassionate kids.
  • With the new technological horizons that are now open to us, it is especially important to limit student connectivity.
  • The best use of the knowledge, experience and instincts of teachers is to make sure that measurable quanta of knowledge are efficiently installed in each student.

These statements represent the status quo in education today. Rejection is the only appropriate response. Once we target a reasonable and appropriate destination, we can chuck the solutions that don’t get us there.

  • Want innovative kids? That requires freedom of exploration and creativity.
  • Want critical thinking? Allow kids to create their own challenges and follow them through.
  • Problem-solving your priority? Let kids grapple with the messy world of real-life situations and difficulties.
  • Worried about our ability to compete in a global economy? Want to see them collaborate and cooperate? Use our robust technology to get kids talking to and learning from folks following similar interests all over the world.
  • Want compassionate kids? Create an environment where kids are in control of their lives, not under the thumb of the constant, inappropriate authority of adults. Connect them to the world through their passions and give them your permission to try to make the world a better place. They’ll take you up on it, every time.
  • Want to see our teachers succeed in helping students succeed? Don’t stand between them and their students; let the relationships develop without grinding the gears on test-prep and enforcement of standards.

As Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia says, “If you challenge kids to do real work that matters, you better be prepared to get out of their way.”

Who’s in charge here?
Someone always benefits from new approaches, new ideas about education. Companies latch onto them, like parasites, bleeding a system for what it’s worth until the next idea comes along. They grab hold of the national education narrative (“the problem in education is that you can’t fire bad teachers” is one) and milk it dry.

The current non-solution solutions are no exception. We read words that seem right and seem to take education in the right direction. Take these words for example:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

Carefully crafted, yes? Pushing all the right buttons? Of course. But the Common Core Standards are not only very expensive to implement....they are also very far afield from what our kids really need. (One glance at the impact that the Common Core Standards and the culture of testing has on special-needs students and English-language learners reveals how extreme -- and inhumane -- we have allowed our education system to become. How do we raise compassionate kids when they observe harshness around them?)

Ordinary people don’t always look under the hood; they don’t see that these “solutions” make a bad situation worse. And publishing companies, testing firms, consultancies, educational data management systems, often represented by honest, well-intentioned educators who seem to know what they’re doing, are all making a tidy profit from not unearthing the real trouble. But like scavengers on roadkill, the profit-makers are always circling public education. We have to look very closely at what they are offering when they take our money.

A simple shift in the workings of a school district, such as to a “standards-based” system of grading, can’t dig out the problems either, even when the shift takes an incredible amount of professional development, structural reorganizing, curricular revamping and money. It's still pushing content at children whether they want it or not, regardless of what really turns their engines on -- and measuring, measuring, measuring.

It still deprives kids of the right to take their own ideas and create something great.

And that system is still subject to high-stakes testing and all the negative pressures that brings to schools. There is no innoculation against that particular disease.

Be extreme. It’s easier than ever!
Extreme is the new normal. Be extreme in response. Accept no solution that doesn’t put students fully in charge of their learning. Insist on a system where kids choose their own goals, their own challenges, and create their own curriculum.

There are always examples of a school or teacher getting it right; but we have to fashion a system where this happens all the time, not by serendipity or happenstance.  It is known that children from well-off, active and involved households are more likely to respond to any educational approach. We need to design a system that isn’t tailor-made to those students who are "easy to teach," but to all students. Even those who are compliant, curious and trustworthy would be better served by an approach to education that wraps itself around the needs of each student.

A top-down, traditional environment is the one we have all experienced; it seems organic; grown from a naturally-existing need. Not so: the current way of organizing schools was imported from Prussia around the turn of the last century and designed to create good factory workers. The fact that this framework still exists is what we all expect to see; it just seems sensible. But it isn’t; it’s extreme.

How do you teach a class full of kids all different things? The logistics alone seem extreme, but it isn’t. It’s possible, it’s do-able, and in the schools that are doing it, it is successful.

What our kids live with every day is so far off-kilter as to make the reasonable seem extreme. It is wrong to accept the sight of kids who have not themselves chosen their educational direction based on who they are and what they themselves most need to learn. It is wrong for the kids, but it is also wrong for a world that needs creative solutions to problems that seem impossible. 

See this, and you can begin to see what might create an education system full of happy learning children.

No comments:

Post a Comment