Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Where Frustration Meets Excitement and Vice Versa

 My job exposes me to amazing schools doing amazing things with technology. I too work at an amazing school but technology is not one of the things which make us amazing.

As teachers, as Americans, and as global citizens, we can get so much right and so much wrong in the next 30 years. I am not being pollyannish when I say that schooling can be transformed and made better for the vast majority of children. Yet, if we approach schooling from a paradigm of fear, we will continue to operate much the same way we have always operated. We see all too clearly how hope vs. fear plays itself out in our larger society across our country and across the world.

I am 47. When I was in school, the information I had access to began and ended in my school's library. Even through my college years, this was largely true. That's when libraries used to brag about the size of their collection and how many journals they had. Schools honestly were not different than medieval monasteries in that knowledge was housed. Technology now allows for all of the world's information to be at our fingertips, accessible from anywhere at any time. This change is fundamental but this change has not changed the way most teachers teach or how society views education.

This societal view and how it shapes what goes on in school is essential to understand. The societal view of schooling is a fearful view. For more than 50 years, education has been "in crisis" in the USA. Indeed, as Gerard Bracy writes:

 "The schools never recovered from Sputnik. Sputnik wounded their reputation and, as the scab formed, something else always came along to reopen the lesion: In the 1960s, schools were blamed for the urban riots (but were not credited for putting a man on the moon). In the 1970s, they were seen as “grim and joyless”. . . In the 1980s, A Nation at Risk blamed them for allowing the Germans, the South Koreans, and the Japanese to race ahead of us competitively (yet did not credit them for the longest sustained economic expansion in the nation’s history)."

When do we look at possibilities? Can we operate from a paradigm of hope for the future instead of a fear?

(Forgive me an aside. How come whenever Governors and Presidents create "blue ribbon panels" to reform education these panels are largely devoid of teachers? I'd have loved it if a panel of teachers was created to make sure the Mortgage Crisis of 2008 never happened again.) Aside over....

We are afraid to change because we worry that something essential will be lost, that important skills won't be taught. Instead of thinking what can we do differently, we worry instead about how we can stay the same while adding a layer of technology on the top.

I find most teachers who don't change are that way because they are afraid of technology, afraid of no longer being the expert in the room, and fundamentally are afraid that essential skills will be lost.

We are well into this 21st century. We've been talking about "21st-century education" for quite awhile now. Sadly, it looks much the same as 1980's education in too many schools and classrooms.

Thus I find myself simultaneously excited and frustrated much of the time. I see and read about pockets of brilliance and then run into walls erected out of fear.

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