Where does innovation -- and, more importantly, innovative thinking -- come from?
In the business world, two factors spur change: opportunity and fear -- the opportunity to make money and, conversely, the fear that some other guy will wipe you out if you don't improve. Evolve, or die, as they say in Silicon Valley.
In the world of public education, however, the status quo is too often placidly accepted as good enough. But smart people know better. Smart people know that unless we improve our public education system, this country is doomed as an economic powerhouse. What company, for instance, would accept the loss of half its employees every five years?
That's the recidivism rate among new teachers. What business would not panic if 30 percent of what it produced failed? That's the latest rate of failure to graduate from high school on time.
There's the fear; let's talk about the opportunity.
The educational community is filled with innovative thinkers, but
sometimes you have to look at the margins to find them. Or just go
upstairs. That's what happened at the National Educational Computing
Conference (NECC), held in late June in Atlanta. It's a monster event.
About 13,000 people attend and view presentations by the hundreds.
While the sprawling show hummed below, some of the nation's best
edubloggers were popping in and out of the Bloggers Cafe, on Level Two
of the World Congress Center. It was a beehive, with dozens of bloggers
rapidly exchanging ideas, and even having a few laughs.
Many of the nation's top edubloggers were there: David Warlick, Vicki
Davis, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beech, Will Richardson (full disclosure: he's on
our advisory board), David Jakes, Joyce Valenza -- too many to mention,
really. Most arrived a day early to take part in an edubloggers' "unconference,"
where many met face-to-face for the first time. And nearly all
agreed that the greatest energy and excitement of NECC came from the
Bloggers Cafe, and the multiuser Skype conversations during sessions.
To many, the main event became a sideshow. Said Richardson, "That
model of someone standing on a stage talking for an hour paled as compared
to just having a conversation. The whole experience has challenged
my thinking a great deal."
The edubloggers' launch pad was just a few feet from the show floor
and its thousands of attendees, but in many ways they were a million
miles away. All these folks are not only passionate about tech-driven educational
change, they also practice what they preach. What if that same
kind of excitement for interconnected learning happened in every classroom,
every school, and every district?
I was thinking about this when I took a brief respite from the show
and went with my son, Jackson, to the nearby Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Within its red brick walls, Martin Luther King Jr. preached. The U.S.
Park Service is sensitive enough to let people quietly walk into this
national historic site and allow the words of the great man to do the talking.
His speeches, given within these very walls a half-century ago, are
played for the hushed visitors.
It was ferociously warm outside -- "hot as fish grease," as a local said -- but in the cool air of the sanctuary, with dappled sunlight coming
through the stained glass windows, King's voice rang out. With only the
tiniest amount of imagination, it was easy to envision the greatest orator
this country has produced speaking with grace and passion, providing the
moral, spiritual, and intellectual signposts for the nation-altering events
What struck me was the link between King's prophetic call to action
and the changes going on in the second floor of the World Congress Center, about ten blocks away. King framed civil rights as a push for social equity and justice, and I believe that, too, is what public education
is all about. The quest for a better educational environment is an economic
argument, to be sure, but also a moral imperative.
Big movements can begin in small spaces; it's the intellectual heft and
importance of the arguments emanating from those places that make
their importance grow. The opportunity is there -- now we just have to
seize it. And I have a feeling I've seen it begin.