Organize

So the question before us is how do we affect change?

For folks who are arguing for a more humane, more inquiry-driven, more citizenship-minded, more modern education, it seems daunting. The forces that seem to be working against this kind of education are many. We are out-spent by those who would argue that workforce-driven, test-measured education is what we really need in this country. Worse, the very language of our best ideas often seem co-opted by those who, in the end, seem to be creating a very different kind of schooling than what our best ideas are really about.

And the traditional advocates for public schooling – teachers unions – are caught in a fight that, while linked to the kind of issues that affect modern schooling, are not the same. While issues of workers’ rights, collective bargaining, teacher evaluation or any of the other issues facing teachers are incredibly important, historically, unions have not been the drivers of pedagogical change.

What we need now is a new kind of organization – one that unites teachers and student and parents and admins who all believe that school can be more powerful than it is now. Maybe this isn’t a national organization at first. Maybe this is district by district, school by school. Maybe the time has come for fewer “Education Nation” moments, and more town halls.

We are living in a time when there is a national movement with incredible wealth that is arguing for a vision of education that seems to ring false for many of the people who are walking the walk in schools now – teachers, students, parents and admins. Perhaps the answer is to win the argument on a different stage – the hyper-local stage. And with social media and the speed of communication, is there any doubt that those arguments could spread?

What if – in cities and towns all over the country – we saw parents and educators (who are often the same people, it should be noted) and students and community members come together to discuss their best vision of what they hope school to be? What if, rather than the rhetoric of “fixing broken schools” that we hear so often from the edu-corporate reform movement, we had a grass-roots movement articulating our best ideas for what we hope a modern education could be? And what if we actually all worked together to make those dreams real – parents, students, teachers and admins all working toward a common vision and a common plan? Think we can do better than what we have now?

Maybe that’s what we need – hyper-local, globally-networked organized groups of citizens who believe that inquiry-driven, project-based modern schools are better than what we have today.

 

8 thoughts on “Organize

  1. Isn’t this what Sir Ken Robinson stated a few years ago in his book The Element when he spoke of the The Micheline Guide and how it pertains to education? Local standards:

    “The other method of quality assurance in catering is the Michelin Guide. It doesn’t tell the proprietors what to put on the menu, when to open, or how to decorate. It just says: “These are the criteria for a great restaurant. If you meet them, you’ll get in.” As a consequence, every Michelin restaurant is fantastic and different because each one is customised to local circumstances.”
    (From http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6016489 )

    I find it highly convenient that the past year, any talk of local standards (or even Sir Ken’s inspiring words) has nearly gone extinct, as everybody spent the last year jumping on the Common Core bandwagon, only now realizing it’s a slippery slope. One word: duh.

    Here’s a stellar example of a principal who claims to be “naive” about Common Core:

    “I confess that I was naïve. I should have known in an age in which standardized tests direct teaching and learning, that the standards themselves would quickly become operationalized by tests. Testing, coupled with the evaluation of teachers by scores, is driving its implementation. The promise of the Common Core is dying and teaching and learning are being distorted. The well that should sustain the Core has been poisoned.”
    (From WAPO: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/03/04/principal-i-was-naive-about-common-core/ )

    The “promise of Common Core?” That’s like McDonalds promising no heart attacks.

    Did we really think that it was going to be any different? I’m going to guess that you have the “spidey sense” when people who don’t really know education try to insert themselves or their educational values on everybody else. It’s always interesting to hear “successful” people who think that what worked for them, must be what’s going to work for everyone else. Listening to Mitt Romney in last year’s Education Nation was telling: clueless. But listening to him makes you understand something about this whole testing thing: standardized testing is a rite of passage for those who have gone through this “hazing.” That’s why they can’t let go of it. Listen to Brian Williams remark at the end of Romney’s rant about how we “need” testing:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=HtsV20WLEuA#t=196s

    I don’t know what’s worse, Romney’s misguidedness or William’s acknowledgement of what’s needed to “get into Harvard.”

    Even Obama and Duncan are pushing their version of success on all of us, with their “everybody can go to Harvard” mentality. If you have a decent amount of money- you can hire people to help you become a master of taking tests. But you still may not learn anything. That is the vicious cycle that must be broken.

    What worked for them- will never work for today’s children. Especially not in this century.

    I don’t know that we need a grass roots movement. We need education to be as easy as going to codecademy.com. Learn the skills that can help you build your future, and don’t wait around for us adults to screw it up.

  2. This rings true for me, and especially right at this moment, because of some conversations I had recently. I was talking with highly educated parents who are engaged in the world around them. In spite of this (or possibly because) they had many misconceptions about education and the standardized tests their children are taking. The conversations were enlightening on both sides, I believe. It convinced me that we, as teachers and educators in the schools, need to have these conversations with parents much, much more often.

  3. Here’s what I struggle with in this: without a context for what modern learning looks like and the skills and literacies that modern learners need to succeed, how can parents or policy makers contribute ideas that will ultimately move education to a different place? I’m not convinced that despite what may be a growing dissatisfaction with the outcomes of the traditional system enough stakeholders have enough of an understanding of them moment to contribute the types of ideas you (and I) seek. (That’s one of the reasons we started RML, by the way.) Take Diane Ravitch as an example, someone who is now an increasingly powerful voice pushing back against the government reform machine, but also someone who I would suggest, with respect, doesn’t really understand the affordances of the Web when it comes to self-organized, self-directed learning and, importantly, how that fundamentally changes the context for the conversation. She’s right that schools aren’t broken in the sense that Jeb Bush et.al would like us to believe. But she doesn’t seem to understand that they will fall into obsolescence if, as you suggest, we don’t make articulate a different value proposition for schools at a level that scales.

    • Here’s my push-back of a sort, I suppose.

      Given that, SLA should have never worked. There was no context in Philadelphia for what we were proposing back in 2006. I remember describing our vision to a parent who was thinking about sending his son to SLA, and at one point the dad just smiled and said, “I didn’t know school could be like that.” We can come together with parents and students and tell a better story.

      And what you are doing with Raising Modern Learners is exactly the kind of thing that is needed. What if parents are using your work with RML to inform their conversations with school leaders? Seems like exactly the outcome we want.

  4. What I saw on my trip is this: educators know what good learning looks like when they see it. We spend a lot of time and treasure listening and dancing to the tunes of people who have time to write books but who have never been in the trenches of actually making a school work. For the most part, those people are too busy to write books (some of us are exceptions!). I completely agree that the brushfires will only turn into a conflagration if educators get in front of the audience and convince people in the community that they know of what they speak. So far, that has only happened in isolated places, like the SLA’s and Albermarle Counties, and independent schools and charters with real flexibility. But there is hope and it lies with replicating what works at places like those cited.

  5. Chris (and Will and Grant). So I think that I am one of these “hyper-local, globally-networked organized people who believes that inquiry-driven, project-based modern schools are better than what we have today.” The parents who are on board with Triangle Learning Community (TLC) middle school are part of the tribe as well. I’m hoping to attract a few more students (or some grant money so I can offer scholarships) so that we can see a small scale example of what self-directed self-organized learning can look like for three years. I had five families interested, but one got into a public school off the lottery, and the other two both liked the TLC model a lot, but apparently wanted a bigger social scene. So we’re at two, with three solid prospects. And we’re spreading the word. I’m going to start work with a few students now; when they finish some quality work (we’re tentatively looking at world hunger) we will publish online.

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