I've been thinking a lot lately about how we're going to get from here to there.
Everyone knows, I think, that schooling in America isn't working the way it should. It's gotten so bad that even our politicians know it. The Republican Bush administration took a crack at reform with "No Child Left Behind." The Democratic Obama administration's reform ideas are called "Race To The Top." For the life of me, I can't tell the difference between the two: high stakes testing, then punishing schools and teachers if the kids don't meet some arbitrary standard.
There are a lot of business people who are attempting to bring their special expertise to the problem. Their hearts may be in the right place, but their bottom line is that education ought to be about vocational training, which is a kind of education, I guess. But honestly, as a parent, is that really all you want your child to get out of 12-16 years of schooling? A job? And is that all we want for our democracy? Well-trained worker bees?
Yet it's our politicians, lead by these business people, who are taking the initiative in the drive to what they are calling "education reform." Last I heard Obama was calling for longer school days and shorter summer vacations. Sheesh.
The enemy it seems are teachers. We're just a bunch of union goons and lazy louts hoping to avoid accountability while collecting our fat government paychecks. Why else would we be objecting? Why else would teachers, almost without exception, be standing in opposition to reform? It couldn't be that teachers, those of us in the classrooms every day, are appalled by the ignorance and arrogance of the reformers whose proposals fly in the face of everything we know, everything data and research prove, about education. No, we are lazy union goons, looking out for number one. My friend Roman, a retired technology guy, actually said to me the other day in the heat of debate, "What do teachers know about education?"
What teachers know that our politicians and business leaders don't understand is that reform isn't enough. Nothing short of an education revolution is needed. Here's Ken Robinson for those of you who haven't seen his second TED talk:
As Sir Ken points out, our current school system is based upon the ideas people had about the future during the Industrial Revolution, when it seemed likely that most people would spend their lives working in factories. They therefore set about creating schools that emphasized conformity, rote learning, following instructions, and long hours of sitting in one place doing the same thing over and over. Things like individuality and creativity would only be burdens in a future that belonged to sufficiently numb minds. This is essentially the same model of schooling we use today, while Newsweek bemoans our "Creativty Crisis" and business executives identify "creativity" as the number one "leadership competency" of the future.
Everyone from teachers, to business leaders, to politicians, to the media agree that we are failing to teach creativity, that creativity is essential, that our very survival is at stake. And yet we're trying to solve it within the context of a factory model of education, one that will ultimately fail no matter how much we "reform" it, especially if that reform is in the direction of yet more more testing, more standardization, more time spent in classrooms listening to lectures. And I will repeat this until I'm blue in the face, those advocating for this kind of "reform" cannot produce a single scrap of data, research or evidence that their ideas will result in more creative citizens. There has never been a study done that proves their assertions. Never. Never. Never. Yet they push forward. I don't know why, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the attitude Roman expressed when he said, "I had to do it, we all had to do it. It was good enough for me, why not for our kids?"
By the same token, there is a mountain of evidence that progressive schools operating on the principles of community, an integrated curriculum, experiential learning (what we in preschool called play-based learning), problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration and cooperation, and democracy produce highly creative, highly motivated, and well socialized citizens.
Like I said, I've been thinking a lot lately about how to get from here to there.
Change is not going to come from our politicians. There is no margin in it for them. We're asking for nothing less than a revolution and there has never been a revolution in history lead by politicians.
Change is not going to come from our business leaders. Their main concern is vocational training. We're asking for nothing less than a revolution and if business wants anything in order to maximize profits it's stability and predictability.
Change is not going to come from our teachers. While most of us see the flaws in our educational system, we have been made the scapegoats. People, even our friends, will say to our faces, "What do teachers know about education?"
But we are teachers and if we are going to bring about an educational revolution, we are going to have to start teaching.
The revolution, if it is to come, must come from parents. Every parent wants what is best for her child, passionately, yet most of the time when I'm speaking with non-Woodland Park parents about education, they know something is wrong, but they tend to throw up their hands, laying blame most often on individual "bad teachers." They might complain, but most of them feel like there isn't anything they can do about it.
They feel this way because they don't know what we know. It's time progressive educators started teaching, one parent at a time. We need to show them in our classrooms, at our parent-teacher conferences, and on our blogs. They should need no other evidence of the "goodness" of progressive education than their own child. We need to arm them with the words, the paradigms and arguments they'll need as they move forward in the world without us. Parents must lead, but we must educate.
That is the only way that meaningful change will come.