The vast majority of education reform seems enamored in false binary options. You’re either success-driven or you believe in low standards. You’re either traditional or you’re twenty-first century. You either believe in intrinsic motivation or you are a briber of students.
We have no common metaphors. We have no shared values. Instead, it seems that each side isolates into echo chambers and shouts just to hear the “right answer” shouted back from the tribe that agrees. When it gets really noisy, we grab megaphones. When this doesn’t work, it turns into a Phil Spector inspired Wall of Sound, where it is just as noisy and artificial, but now it’s smooth. We resort to sloganeering and talking points.
What we lack is humility. Set down the megaphone. Walk out of the echo chamber. Share a pint with someone who thinks you’re crazy for authentic learning or traditional learning or unschooling or home schooling or schooling on the large vacuum tubes of the interweb. Ask more questions and listen a little closer and see what emerges.
I have a friend Kevin who first thought that my ideas on education were insane. However, in coaching track together, we became good friends. Religiously, politically and philosophically we were polar opposites. Yet, we asked questions and listened and both of us had a new appreciation for a different approach. He taught me that procedures were necessary. I taught him that learning was a relational experience. We hashed out our education reform over a pint.
When we take the humble approach, what emerges are some common values. Both sides, even in the midst of screaming matches, care about students. It’s just that both sides get a little scared or sometimes a little proud. I know, because I’ve been there. Just ask my teammates at school who listened to a passionate explanation of why my way of organizing the curriculum leads to greater success.
When we engage in meaningful dialog, we are able to see the complexity of the issues and often times arrive at a sense of paradox. So, it turns out that bad teachers are a part of the problem, but that good teachers need unions to protect their rights. It turns out that twenty-first century learning is important, but that folks like Aristotle and Plato have something important to add to education reform as well. It turns out that the traditional mindset of learning-as-hard-work is important, but so is the more constructivist idea that learning is inherently interesting, meaningful and perhaps even fun.