When I fly, I like to look out the window. I look for schools. They are easy to find. They all look the same. You can tell secondary schools from elementary ones because of the their running tracks and football fields. Elementary schools only have baseball fields.
The collector in me loves this. Flying over populated areas, I can look from school to school to school all flight long. The teacher in me hates this. They all look the same. From above, just as from within, they all look the same.
So let me ask, how does what we do get in the way of what we should do?
#ncte10 has been wonderfully affirming, and it’s also managed to give me some push on #edreform, which I didn’t expect, but should have given the amazing work done by my colleagues. There are people within the organization just as dedicated to transforming the profession as they are to preserving it. That might be the most important lesson of #edreform I’ve learned this week. We can both transform and preserve school. In fact, to preserve it, we have to transform it.
I spend a lot of time imagining how to remix teaching and learning in my classes. However, when I spend time doing that, I’m not spending time asking or answering questions like these:
- Why am I still in a room and in a school?
- Why am I still pacing for a set amount of time each day?
- Why am I still teaching one grade and one subject?
- What is it that I do that merits my salary?
- How is what I do to merit my salary different from what I’m paid to produce?
I get around to those questions, but I don’t sustain my reactions to them much past a blog post. It’s exceedingly difficult to give time and attention to questions like those in addition to figuring out how to make 60 minutes of language arts on Monday look different than 60 minutes of language arts from, say, 2002.
Nevertheless, we have to find a way to give those questions more thought and decisive action.
We have to reform our classroots practices for authentic engagement and participate rigorously in dismantling the schedules and structures of traditional schooling. We can start in our classrooms, but we can’t stop there. We have to help school follow kids. We have to help school follow learning.
We have to help each other change school. It’s not going to be enough to change what we do while we’re there.
- Form a third union focused on students and their learning that protects our right to teach and learn with them in humane and pedagogically sound ways.
- Start new public schools that ignore schedules and other methods of compartmentalization and control in favor of doing R&D in what happens when PLCs of teachers, students, and programmers get together in house to build and share out tools based on community members’ inquiries. Otherwise public schools are going to wind up teaching corporate curriculums or facing competition from corporate schools, in addition to open access ones. Public school is the loser in a zero-sum game of politics, finance, and convenience unless it offers something democratic, inspirational, beautiful and of lasting value to its communities. There is no morally sound reason for public school to exist if it becomes a soulless, joyless, forced buffet-march through pre-prepped corporate offerings.
- Get over our reactionary defensiveness toward business. For every company looking to make a buck off the status quo, there’s an entrepreneur like George Lucas who hated school and would like nothing better than to make it a more meaningful institution for today’s youth. Moreover, we’re years – which will soon become decades – behind nearly every other sector in doing and making. Furthermore, we’re going to need shrewd, principled administrators to find infrastructure savings and negotiate deals to pay us for the value-added work of fostering learning. We can’t drive business people with good ideas for school out of the sector or into the arms of businesses that put their own interests in schools first. Go hug an entrepreneur today and get him or her to test something worthwhile in your classroom; we’re already paying the for-profit crowd to beta-test the next generation of their tests and textbooks. For every teacher teaching all day, there’s an entrepreneur thinking all day about how to help us do more good. Get him or her into the PLN.
- Learn gaming. If we designed learning the way top developers design games – and taught students to do likewise – we’d create engaging social and experiential learning the likes of which we’ve never seen. Except in video games. And simulations. And modeling. And engineering. And digital humanities. You get the point. There’s so much to say here. If a kid can design a fun game that expresses his or her learning, it’s win-win: she’s written a compelling experiential narrative with informational text qualities for the user operating on an invisible script of iterated, bug-free programming. Get a tennis ball and download Scratch: there’s your K12 math curriculum. Put an X-Box 360 and a sandbox game next to Beowulf in the library and see what happens. Let libraries be learning/making studios and curate the resources, including games and game authoring tools, that would help us all broaden our definitions of literacy. Don’t hold school libraries and media specialists hostage to outdated notions regarding the authority of bound print.
- Give up on standardization, even if we keep meaningful standards. Make schools communities of practice. Produce excellent work. Let students be apprentices. Create schools that are loose federations of practioners teaching blended, hybrid classes across times and spaces, including at school. Develop more community college partnerships and dual-enrollment options. Offer adults and kids different kinds of schools at which to work and learn. Make public school about AND, not OR. Make school choice about choice, rather than a marketing ploy that argues there is no other choice.
And that’s really it. How do we work from the classroom to change what we’re doing at school AND to change school? Those ends aren’t mutually exclusive, but they’re also not the same. That’s the dilemma. I don’t even know that my questions begin to address it.
When the robots from AI carve us out of the ice, I want them to find my classroom and say, “Huh, this one looks a little different from the other ones.” But I also want them to say, “It still looks nothing like the classrooms that came after. Beep beep doot doot doot.”
Special thanks to the Coöp, #ncte10, the many folks who’ve paused to talk with me, Devon Adams, Jen Ansbach, Darah Bonham, Teresa Bunner, Doug Crets, Billy Gerchick, Becky Fisher, Troy Hicks, Bud Hunt, Karen Labonte, Sara Kajder, William Kist, Pam Moran, Donalyn Miller, Steve J. Moore, Paul Oh, Chad Ratliff, Shelley Rodrigo, Ira Socol, Tim Shea, Meredith Stewart, Melissa Techman, Tom Vander Ark, and Paula White for inspiring this post, each in his or her own, inimitable way.