I was going through my video collection last night and came across one that I hadn’t thought about in a while. The movie City Slickers follows the adventures of a few friends who try to renew and re-purpose their lives by going on a cattle driving vacation. There’s a great scene in the film where one of the searchers, Mitch (Billy Crystal) and Curly (Jack Palance), the crusty-edged cowboy who has seen this type of critical response to mid-life before, get into a conversation about the meaning of life:
Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
Mitch: No, what?
Curly: (holding up one index finger) This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing, just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean sh**
Mitch: That’s great, but…what’s the one thing?
Curly: (pointing the same finger at Mitch) That’s what you’ve got to figure out.
There are many ideas floating around—here, and in other places—about how we can make schools more effective, efficient and responsive to the needs of those that they were created to serve. (I’m assuming that schools were created to serve our students, but I may, in fact, be wrong!) There are some who want to totally burn down the entire forest and start again. There are others that would be happy with small, incremental changes to the way things are currently done.
But, I’m wondering how I would respond if I were asked to identify the one thing on my own school transformation agenda. Despite the passionate and innovative spirit with which we approach this type of thinking, it is clear that the structures of school are stubborn and very resistant to change. But what is the one thing that, if implemented properly, might help us move schools closer to where we would like to see them.
Before throwing this question out to the community on this late November weekend, I thought that I would provide a response of my own.
For me, the change that would provide the most leverage for transformation would be a shift from age-based movement through the system. For me, it is this traditional practice that carries with it quite a few of the assumptions that we make about how students learn, not the least of which is that there exists a predictable trajectory of skill and knowledge acquisition. Challenge this practice, and we could be on our way to creating a whole new way of looking at education, and a whole new experience of school for both students and teachers.
I have a position in my school this year that sees me teaching pretty well every student in the school at least once a week. One moment, I’m sitting on the floor of a kindergarten class singing “Five Little Monkeys.” The next moment, I could be in the music lab, working with a group of grade eight students. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t ask questions like, “Why can’t this grade three student team up with this grade six student on this project?” or “Why can’t my music classes more closely resemble my extra-curricular keyboard ensemble where students from ages 10-14 are gathering to learn Pachelbel’s Canon in D?
Yes, I’m thinking that if there was one thing that might open up our schools to the innovative spirit that is so desperately trying to gain admission into the way we go about doing school, it would be the practice of corralling students into stalls and pens based on their age. (The farming metaphor just crept into this piece at the last minute, but it has a connection to what we do to students once we have them corralled–WE GRADE THEM…hmmm….)
So, what would it be for you? What is the one thing that has emerged for you as a powerful possibility for transformation.