I began my teaching career in 1964, in the same school from which I graduated. I left for several years to design and manufacture children’s clothes. I worked with Filmmakers in the School (does anyone remember Nixon and CETA dollars?) teaching teachers to use 8mm and 16mm hardware. I coached girls basketball and field hockey. Wrote a book. Designed quilts. My experience was varied, because I was always looking for the big picture, the way all things fit together. The way that art and music and movement contribute to a vibrant culture. And why issues of social justice trump everything else in a democracy.
I left the classroom in 1988 and began consulting with teachers, administrators, and school boards. I’ve worked everywhere from Australia, Kuala Lumpur and Nairobi… to the South Bronx. (People get more excited when I tell them about working in Canberra than about the progress I see in the Bronx.)
New York City teachers, in fact, most inner city teachers I’ve worked with are better trained than most. Piles of money are focused on professional development, lots of time is spent out of the classroom, thousands of students are subjected to the instructional strategy du jour. I think schools are more open to new ideas when we believe that the ‘system is broken,’ rather than ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’.
The point is we’ve been ‘professionally developed’ ad nauseum.
The point is we don’t even agree on what the purpose of education is. What we’re teaching kids to be.
The point is we talk about getting students ‘college ready’ without even realizing that there is no monolithic idea called ‘college.’
Steve Denning has it right. We are still in the Factory Mode of Education in a country that no longer has factories. I agree with Denning that we need a new vision of how education can be. It’s not as difficult as we might imagine, and it’s far less expensive that we think. His piece should be mandatory reading for everyone interested in the future of education.
Denning talks about shifting our goals by shifting our vision. Teaching has been under attack ever since we decided that teachers and schools are the enemy. (see A Nation at Risk, 1983). Since then we’ve added unions and collective bargaining to the Enemies List. If we think we know what’s wrong with education why do we demand the same results only with louder voices and with more punitive consequences? Isn’t that the definition of insanity?
Suppose, instead of teaching teachers how to teach we teach them how to learn together. How about if we sit down like adults and read something challenging and rigorous at our own intellectual level? Next, we engage in a serious dialogue around those ideas. Afterward, we spend time talking about how we might expect students to be involved in the same kinds of inquiry. Suppose we teach them how to learn and test them, if we must, on ideas and the connections they make with facts, information, textual sources. Suppose they never end a written piece without asking another question, teaching them that learning is never over.
If we’re serious about making sure kids learn, let’s teach them in ways that makes learning relevant to their lives. And to ours. Teachers will be with us long after this current debate is over. What sort of teachers do we want? By-the-book-just-tell-me-what-to teach teachers? Or those who help students challenge assumptions, make connections, equate effort with success? If it’s the later then we have to help teachers acquire and revere these attributes.
It only took one generation for the Tibetans to lose their culture when the Chinese took over. One generation to forget their past. One generation……