Friday, October 12, 2012

Is there anybody out there?

I've got a little black book with my poems in
Got a bag with a toothbrush and a comb
When I'm a good dog they sometimes throw me a bone 
                                                Roger Waters

I've had a revelation; an epiphany, if you will, about changing the current paradigm in education. It can’t be done. Sorry. I wish I could pretend it was otherwise, but it isn’t. Every once in awhile we might make some tiny progress, change a mind or two, but overall there just isn’t anything to be done.

You see the problem isn't a question of creating a new program or policy. We don’t need to have an in-service where we discuss our school culture or examine test scores. We don’t need to buy this or that. There isn't any magical piece of software out there that is going to solve our problem or some brilliant observer of the world of education that can come in and give us the magic bullet of education.

Sorry you wasted all that money on college. That Masters degree looks nice in that frame on your wall. Then there’s that Ph.D. you worked so hard for; it’s beautiful in its frame and being called doctor is really cool, but it’s really not going to change anything except what you’re paid (which is pretty cool, come to think of it). I know, through it all, you thought you were going to change things; you had dreams that you would be “The One” and that the Matrix would do as you willed.

I’m not saying you should give up; hop on your donkey, level that lance, and head for the nearest windmill. I’m sure Cervantes would be proud.

You see the problem is that you've set an impossible task for yourself because what you really need to do is travel around the country, you've already got the donkey and lance, and speak to each teacher individually. You need to convince them that what they are doing isn't preparing their kids for the 21st Century world they are about to enter. In fact, what they are learning, if they’re learning, will have little or no bearing on what the world will ask of them.

I know you think you’re teaching them to read, but you’re not. The best you can hope for is to instill in them the desire to read; if you do that then they will do the rest. That spelling test you give every Friday isn't measuring anything other than their ability to memorize how to spell words, but you know, deep down inside, that spell check is going to take care of that for them in the future. Heck, the language may change to the point that “idk” becomes the norm rather than the exception. The word “you” may just be replaced by a letter, who knows? If the point of writing is communicating, then one must ask, “What is the media they will be using?”

Math, you say, everybody uses math! You can’t argue with that, but is your time better spent teaching them how to use a calculator? Nobody “balances their checkbook” anymore; it’s all done with cards and a website. I’m sure there’s an app for their smart phone that can do whatever they need. Besides, I can’t remember the last time I needed to use the Quadratic Equation or Pythagorean Theorem. They don’t even have to count my change at Kmart properly anymore (of course I can’t remember the last time I used actual money at Kmart).

Science and social studies? Give me a break. Writing an essay on the causes of the Civil War is not going to help them learn about the complex issues surrounding the start of that most tragic event in our history. I know proper citizenship requires all Americans to know our history and many issues today’s young people will face require understanding certain scientific ideas, but are they actually learning? Do you know? Can you know? Do you care?

I am proud to say that I have instilled the love of learning in a few students over the years, because that is fundamentally what I should be doing. If I can make them curious they will learn because they want to learn. I’m not a teacher; I’m a Master Learner. I’m a guide if I do my job correctly. That is the fundamental change that must be made. Teaching is something I do; learning is what they do.

It’s the hard truth that most learning is incidental (or accidental) and I should create an atmosphere of exploration. I should not try to follow a set of standards. No, I should appear along the path of their learning with a little road map helping them overcome the occasional fallen tree or surging stream; I should be there with a rope or a raft when they need it. I should be behind them so I don’t block their view, so I can whisper the encouragement they might occasionally need. I should embrace the world they live in instead of trying to make them fit in my world. My world is past; their world is what I need to understand.

I need a firmware update. The entire system of education needs a firmware update. Unfortunately, nobody out there is set up to automatically receive updates at 3:00 a.m. It’s 3:00 a.m. and everybody is asleep.

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