This is not a very complex issue to date. Systematically, our public education system has been about training students to sit still and listen to the information politicians, administrators, and teachers have determined is important for them to know. Their job is then to repeat back that information to confirm its transmission. Our current educational reform climate does nothing to change this. However, it might just provide enough wiggle room for us to break free.
Our public education system continues to be a top-down system where federal politicians decide what will be happening in schools. The next level of control is the state, followed by the school board and superintendent, then the teachers.
The last person to ever be asked what it is they want to learn is the student. In a traditional school trajectory, perhaps only at the doctoral level does a student begin to articulate her own desires for learning.
Thus, currently, our standardized-testing obsessed culture is built-upon tyranny. It is declared the rule of the land by those in power, backed by the lobbyists of the billion-dollar-a-year plus education economy, and thus, everyone else’s livelihood in the system depends on following these orders. Administrators, teachers, and students, are all bound by the decree of what education is today. It is essentially a totalitarian system., as it requires complete subservience to the state.
Of course, some are able to escape this condition, and that option is called economic privilege and private school.
It could be said that all public schools are not all the same, that there’s a spectrum. Sure that’s true. There are maximum security schools and minimum security schools, but in my experience they are all still prisons. Prisons of bodies and minds. Administrators are the wardens and teachers are the guards.
I have found one exemplar as of late in the public sector, New Country School in Minnesota. Of all the innovations in public and charter education, this is the only (and please show me more if you know of them!) example of a public school breaking down the institution of education, and, instead, allowing for the nature of learning. Here’s one of their core values: “The schools goal should apply to all students, although the means to these goals will vary as those students vary themselves.” They were named one of the eight highest performing charter schools in the U.S.
As can be expected, people do what they need to in order to survive. This is true for administrators and teachers, who follow the rules so that they can get paid, and true for students who follow the rules so that they can get grades. Now I have great respect for teachers and students. I know that many would not be doing it this way, if we didn’t “have” to.
So here’s the deal people. There has to be some sort of civil disobedience. Decide right now to dedicate yourself to being a force of lasting change, or not, but decide now. Begin in small ways that will not cost you your job right off the bat. Also develop a plan that does not injure students as they are the innocent bystanders in the battles in education. Perhaps it’s developing an innovative grading policy that frees your classroom from their addiction. Perhaps its a classroom sized decision-making process that begins with students’ voices, instead of ending with their drop-out rates. Find ways to begin transitioning the responsibility of learning to students along with ways to allow their passions to guide that learning. Support students in opting-out of standardized testing while supporting them in alternate ways of proving their ability to college admissions departments.
Find allies. If your principal or superintendent isn’t one already then you will need a stronger show of force than just yourself. Use the PLN as a resource, colleagues and students, too. Begin researching and formulating your argument and backing up your decisions to change course. Articulate your aims from the outset, develop strategies to achieve them. Begin with small, achievable actions to strengthen your resolve and belief that this can work. The toughest battles aren’t going anywhere.
History is written every minute of every day by our individual actions (or inaction) collectively aggregated. Politicians and lobbyists are going to do this for us.