I’m listening to Pandora right now. Not really Pandora, but “Resurrection Fern,” a naturalist musing on death by Iron and Wine brought to me by Pandora and their sleuth of advertisers. It took Pandora two hours to figure out that I would like the song. Not bad, really, for a customized music station. Apparently there is a magical algorithm that has mapped out musical tastes like a human genome project. It can figure out that if I like Sufjan Stevens and Iron and Wine, I’ll probably like Death Cab for Cutie and Hayden. (It’s not perfect. For a long time, Pandora kept thinking I would like Cold Play.)
My friend Quinn also knows my musical tastes. It took him longer than two hours and sometimes he still gets it wrong (I’ll never enjoy Thrice, for example) But the musical recommendations occurred through hours of having coffee and sharing pints and crying with him when he was experiencing a divorce and him crying with me after my wife and I had a miscarriage (which feels like such a cold word for the death of a child you had already begun to know, if only in silence).
Pandora can’t cry.
Pandora can’t drink pints or sip espressos or find the sheer joy of a flee market record find.
So, it’s Fall Break and I’m tapping away at the keyboard and dreaming up new lessons. I have a stash of teacher’s binders and resource catalogs and CD-ROMs (I didn’t realize people still used those) and website links at my disposal. Which is exactly how they’ll remain – in a state of disposal.
It might be a slower, less efficient process, but I’ll continue to create my own units. If customization is my goal, I’ll stay away from the algorithms, ignore the data for awhile and think about the flesh-and-blood reality of my classroom. I’ll consider the stories of my twenty-eight students and I’ll work with them in dialog as I recommend new learning experiences.
I’ll read their blogs and I’ll sit with them outside on the days when tragedy strikes and I’ll rejoice with them as they grow in wisdom. I’ll cry and I’ll laugh and I’ll smile and I’ll dance and the end result will be something an algorithm cannot produce.
People can manufacture a crisis and manufacture a solution and manufacture legislation and I’m glad there are people in leadership thinking up the big ideas. But I’d like to offer a counterpoint on education reform. Often the beauty of education reform is found in the relationship, in the sticky, messy human reality that occurs in that mysterious paradox of teaching to learn and learning to teach.