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No Risk, No Reward: How Public Education MUST unlearn its own fear

This is a response post, to the question posed by Department of Education that addresses the question…

What is the Biggest Challenge in Education Today?

If a survey was done in America on what the biggest challenge in education today was, I am guessing that the popular answer would be something like, class size, new resources, materials, educated teachers, standardized tests, or something else along these lines.  As a member of this society, this nation, and the human race in general, I would tend to reflect on my educational schooling and view these issues with the same distaste and dissatisfaction as with the general public.  These, however, are not the biggest challenge in education today.  The biggest challenge in education is summed up in one word, maybe two…risk and fear. 

Often times, when census surveys or yearly surveys are done by the general public on “issues that concern them,” education, generally ranks in the top 10 of every survey.  There is a national concern on education.  And yet, if you do the same survey’s by region, by individual school districts, even each elementary school, the public’s perception changes and suddenly nothing is wrong with the schooling their children are receiving.  We cannot have it both ways. 

We either compartmentalize each arena of schooling, extract where knowledge is going and coming, see how we can give better tests, better books, more excelled teachers or we view the entire structure, the national picture as a problem.  There is no doubt, that both areas are true, both the challenges in each classroom and the national structure are problems that hold back our students…but we can’t burn one hand, because we banged the other against the wall.

Risk – Risk is what we need in the classroom and the structure.  Outside of the box thinking, by teachers every day, by students themselves, by the administration and by the public relations of education on a national level.  I know, it’s a concept.  It might seem baseless, or solution-less oriented, but its fact.  How do we move forward if we are arguing about the past?  Where does learning come from in education, by routine or through innovation?  Risk everything.  Risk your job, Risk your career, risk the system as a whole.  Radically transform it, so that it works for learning

If we do not risk who we are, what we are, how we act or what we can become, then what is the point of it all?  Who cares if we get new books, if we are bound to learning from them?  Who cares if every teacher is required to have a Ph.D., if we don’t value the minds of our students to think for themselves?  Why would we ever want to continually build new buildings and have the latest computers, if they are used only to standardize the same bubble test that we had as kid? 

There is an old quote that says, “If you want to be something.  Be.” It is not about staying comfortable, about fixing one mistake while another arises, it is about that moment, that defining moment, that changes it all.  The one that took the risk and tried something different.  The moment that pushed up against common sense, logical solutions and popular demand and said, “no! We are doing this instead.” 

“Sure, we can say, we want risk, but what about the structure that is needed in place for that risk to be undertaken?”  NO that is not RISKY, that is not free falling, that, is constructing a building, while tearing the other one down. We can not and will not solve the challenges, the many challenges facing education in America by creating new structures that continue the same old problems, only with a different face… i.e. race to the top to replace no child left behind. 

No one ever said that taking a risk was easy, it was not easy for me to give up my licensure ambition, but I did so because I felt morally wrong against participating in a system that harms our students.  No one said that fear was not grappling, that it was not easy to overcome or face head on, but doing so, does create new desires, new emotions and new solutions that you or any of us, did not know we had.  Jump in with both feet, the water is fine, it is only the fear that it is cold that prevents you from leaping. 

 Wake up tomorrow, in whatever capacity you are in, especially if you are in education and walk in, vote with your feet, speak with your mouth and let it be known, that taking the risk is worth it, once you see learning as the reward, I am sure you will agree that it is.  Why not?  We already have nothing to lose in the challenges that face our education system.  The only thing we have to lose is the fear that creates those challenges. 

                Educational Solidarity,

                                Casey K. Caronna


About caseykcaronna

A 27 year old Master of Arts in Education Degree holder from the progressive, liberal arts school, Goddard College. I am interested in Holistic, Community, Progressive, Democratic and Student-Centered Education. I am currently a part-time employee with the Boy Scouts of America. I am writing my first book on holistic education and looking for full time employment in education, throughout the United States and Canada. I am interested in all things education and hope to make trans-formative changes to the educational system(s) in America and in the process help to improve the lives of the individuals in whom it serves.


3 thoughts on “No Risk, No Reward: How Public Education MUST unlearn its own fear

  1. Casey, In my work we often try to gently get folks to talk about fear: what it is, what shape it has, how it can be named to make, well…less scary.

    These can be hard conversations, because a lot sits on top of fear, and masks it: anger, righteous judgment, intellectual “knowing.” Also, as Aaron said in an awesome comment a couple of days ago, parents don’t want their child to be the one “experimented on,” teachers, already under so much fire and critique, don’t feel especially bold or filled with good energy; students don’t feel empowered in a system where they have the little power. You are naming something really important.

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | August 26, 2010, 8:59 am
  2. I love this line: “If we do not risk who we are, what we are, how we act or what we can become, then what is the point of it all?”

    Why will our students ever change if we do not? Why will they love learning if we don’t bend to accept them even while they resist it?

    Risking who we are is the endgame for teacher-transformation at many levels, both personal and professional. I don’t know that being within or without the system makes a difference in the kind of teacher you are or the kind of classroom community you create. Vision, leadership, trust/buy-in, and, frankly, funding seem to me the most essential concerns of alternative education, wherever it occurs.

    Casey, I wonder how you assess the value of free-falling in the system, if you think such a thing is possible. Your thoughts?

    Best regards,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | August 26, 2010, 7:47 pm
  3. “If we do not risk who we are, what we are, how we act or what we can become, then what is the point of it all?”

    I agree with this idea to some extent. And yet, on some level who I am as a teacher has everything to do with who I am as a person and more core identity, that deeper part of my own narrative has to remain constant. I need an anchoring to some deeply formed convictions, though they may be paradoxical.

    I will not risk for the sake of risk. However, I will risk for the sake of a deeply held conviction.

    Posted by johntspencer | August 28, 2010, 9:18 am

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