Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Think I Get It! Now, What to do About It!

I have been looking through my blogs and there is a common thread running through many of them. People in my PLN are upset with Obama's pick for Secretary of Education, but that's not what motivated me to jump in here. It is the discussion around that topic. The discussion of change.

We all know that change is very difficult for some and somewhat difficult for most. In the best of times when everyone appears to be moving forward change still comes slowly. This has always seemed to be true of education.

I think I might have stumbled upon the reason why this is so. It seems that the harder some of us try to move forward the more the system pushes us backwards. Most people are not aware of this and mistake the change backwards as real progress.

Let me explain this phenomenon as I see it. You see I have been working very hard to get teachers around my area to see that students have changed and that teachers must adapt to their electronic world. It's a connected world out there and our students understand that, at least they understand it on their turf and terms. So what have we done about this. We've tried to cut them off from their world and are trying desperately to keep them in ours.

I'll bet that almost every educator wants their students to become life long learners. We even know how to do that. Students who are self motivated do much better than most. It's really hard to keep someone uneducated when they really want to learn. However, we are doing our best to do just that.

I have always been told that tracking is a dirty word in education, yet we have created the biggest track of all by trying to convince all students that they must go to college. Take a look at our college drop out rates and you'll see that it just hasn't worked, but what k-12 educator feels responsible for that. Hey we graduated them and sent them on to college didn't we? We did our job! Really?

I believe our strength as a nation is our people and our creative genius. Some have called it good old Yankee Ingenuity. We are letting that slowly slip away as we teach to the standards and the tests. Why should our children be excited about school when they are practicing for the tests, reviewing for the tests, taking the tests, and then debriefing the test results, only to gear up for the next tests. I would bet that if we could some how create a test on test taking, our nation would be number one in the world. Hey, maybe then we would satisfy the people who think that student achievement is best measured with standardized tests. We could then just teach our students about test taking and get on with real education. Giving our students reasons to want to learn about everything again!

You see I think we are going backwards and the reason I am so frustrated sometimes is it's not just helping to steer people in the right direction but also getting them out of reverse first. Here's what Ira Socol said that put this into perspective for me,

"But in schools, we go backwards. We even declare it, saying, we're going "back"wards "to basics." When we let a few new things trickle in, we control them so fiercely that they change almost nothing. Rather than tearing down classroom walls our kids now spend more time in school and even take fewer field trips. Rather than alternative evaluations we now have standardized tests for all ages. Rather than project-based learning we now have Core Curriculum. Rather than social justice we have "zero tolerance." And rather than the freedom of mobiles in the classroom we have the coercive control of clickers. Rather than the freedom of the Internet we have filters and blocks. Rather than the interaction of messaging and blogs and Twitter and Skype we have rules against these technologies. Rather than pushing past Wikipedia and print-based knowledge design, we don't even allow Wikipedia in so that we can discover its limits. Rather than computers allowing for individualization, we "lock them down." We've stopped dreaming - unless we are dreaming of the Eisenhower Administration and pretending it was all things I am quite certain it was not. And since we've stopped dreaming, we've stopped progressing. We're so afraid these days. I never understood how Europeans just 'gave up on progress' when the Roman Empire fell, but now I do. We have done the same. Retreated to our dark, isolated classrooms, hiding from the world, hoping it all goes away."

This is what we are up against. I see that now. What to do about it is another thing altogether.

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