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Editor's Note: Will Richardson is the author of weblogg-ed, a blog that covers the intersection of learning, technology and ed reform. A former classroom teacher in Flemington, New Jersey, Richardson is also the author of the book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. He is also a member of the National Advisory Council here at the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Tim Stahmer's post "There's No Normal to Return To" has me thinking this morning. He writes:

At the same time we in education are also doubling down on the "back to basics" and on teaching kids how to follow someone else's instructions. Our leaders, both political and business, want us to think that if we just combine greater effort with more standardization that we can recreate the glorious old days where every kid was above average and US test scores topped every other country.

The former, of course, is statistically impossible (only in Lake Wobegon) and the later a myth, but we spend large chunks of money, instructional time, and public discourse trying to make it happen.

So when do we acknowledge that our current education system, built to support that industrial society, also needs to change?

Good question. And even more, past acknowledging the need, when do we make it happen?

Most of the edusocialmediaverse sees a compelling need to change...but to what? What is the "new normal" in 20, 30 or 40 years?

I have little doubt any longer that it will be a "roll your own" type of education, one in which traditional institutions and systems play a vastly decreased role in the process. That the emphasis will be on learning and what you can do with it, not on degrees or diplomas or even test scores. As I Tweeted out yesterday, my new favorite quote comes from Cathy Davidson:

"'Learning' is the free and open source version of 'education.'"

I do believe that the emphasis will turn back to the learning process, not the knowing process. And while I don't think schools go away in the interaction, the "new normal" will be a focus on personalization not standardization, where we focus more on developing learners, not knowers, and where students will create works of beauty that change the world for the better. At some point, we'll value that more than the SAT.

That's my hope at least. As Gary Stager points out, it's a pretty dismal moment:

The problem with the rehab or resurrection myth was that I never anticipated the chance that American public policy regarding public education was that there IS NO BOTTOM to rise up from. It now appears that schooling and the way in which some Americans treat other people's children has no bottom. Things can and will get worse, perhaps indefinitely.

And that is the scary part, that for most kids, there is no bottom. Over the next decade, we'll see lots of kids opting out of schools as we know them, many because they feel disenfranchised or disinterested and would rather just complete the same old curriculum online, but some because there will be a growing number of "education providers" who will offer a much more personalized, passion-alized learning experience for those who can afford it. And I'm not talking here about the Amazonification of education where we're delivered content based on our interests (though that's coming too.) I'm talking about places both online and off where highly motivated kids will gather to learn under the aegis of any number of different school-type entities that look little like the current brick and mortar spaces most of us send our kids. What concerns me is what happens to those that aren't well off enough or highly motivated enough to create their own new, better paths to learning.

Tim's post references a Seth Godin post where he writes:

It takes a long time for a generation to come around to significant revolutionary change. The newspaper business, the steel business, law firms, the car business, the record business, even computers... one by one, our industries are being turned upside down, and so quickly that it requires us to change faster than we'd like.

It's unpleasant, it's not fair, but it's all we've got. The sooner we realize that the world has changed, the sooner we can accept it and make something of what we've got. Whining isn't a scalable solution.

In other words, this is going to take a while, and it's not going to be without pain. What does eventually rise from the ashes will be dependent on each of us seeing the world differently for ourselves, our willingness to lead and participate in the change, and at the end, fighting hard for what we believe is best for our kids.

This post first appeared on weblogg-ed on April 25, 2011.

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Cindy Johanson's picture
Cindy Johanson
Executive Director, Edutopia

Thanks for sharing this piece with the Edutopia community. A few years ago, I remember being in a Learning First Alliance conference in Washington DC with representatives from every major education organization. During a visioning session for the year 2020, several participants took the mic and expressed concern about the future. These were people who were empowered to make change yet they painted a future similar to what you describe -- from their vantage, we were moving to a "fend for yourself" model of education -- where only the kids who were fortunate enough to have motivated parents with time and/or $ would be engaged learners, developing the skills needed to become confident, productive members of society. Since that conference four years ago, I have been fortunate to be a part of the Edutopia team where we highlight inspirational real-world stories of leaders in education who are pushing for new models and approaches. They run the gamut from charter, public, private, etc. There are still not enough options but these innovators, like you, show the possible.

Jessica Piper's picture

Loved your post, (as usual) and you stated what I often think...and have just started saying; we are so concerned about knowing for a test that we forget about learning for life. I really appreciate you being out there as a voice of change.


Don Doehla, MA, NBCT's picture
Don Doehla, MA, NBCT
2015 California Language Teacher of the Year, Co-Director Berkeley WL Project at UC Berkeley Language Center

Your points are well taken, Will. As a teacher, I am constantly asking myself how can I connect with the kids in my classes, especially the ones absent, the ones who don't typically work, the ones whose parents are never home and for whom I may be the only adult who speaks to them today... There are so MANY kids like that today. I am working more and more, not less, reading, researching, collaborating with other thoughtful colleagues via Twitter and this Forum, as well as others, and hoping to make a difference. Who will be my special project tomorrow? Looking for strength to endure!

Walter McKenzie's picture

For many of us the work is underway and the reality that education transformation is necessary has been accepted. I invite you to help influence the direction of education by promoting 2011 - 2020 as the Decade of Educational Transformation (d.e.t.). This is a completely free initiative not tied to any commercial interests. Let's set the dialogue on our terms as educators!

Kevin Crosby's picture
Kevin Crosby
Educator and School Counselor / Trinidad School District #1

I share Mr. Richardson's vision and concerns, at least those I understand from his intriguing post.

I would like to say that some of what he is talking about is happening in part because of the decisions parents make about public education. For example, in my rural district we have no charter options, and only limited, costly private options. So, the district has been affected by the fact that a significant number of parents either homeschool or place their children in online programs.

For several years, the district's response was to try to improve existing programs and basically just complain about the free online competition.

But now, a new blended option is emerging; one that promises to be a better option than enrolling in an online school where the teachers are hundreds of miles away, and for some it could prove to be a better option than full-time in the brick and mortar schools. The focus is to bring those who have left the public district back into the fold, but ultimately (I hope) the district will realize that we also have a number of part-time students who take core classes online, and come to our district for maybe just P.E. and Band. This expands in-district options for them and anyone else seeking alternatives.

So, parents, perhaps unwittingly, pressured the district into creating a blended option with flexibility and less standardization. When parents seek other options, school districts are pressured to create more options. At one time there were folks organizing to try to start a charter, but if we have a flexible system with plenty of choice within the district there is less need for charters, less debating about vouchers, and less flight to other districts or private schools.

Ultimately, the strongest argument for full-time schooling is the fact that many families want and need babysitters while the parent or parents work. Even full-time in-building students could have blended options by offering learning labs for some subjects. Would you like to take math online from home, online in the learning lab, or in a traditional classroom? How about English? Science part-time online and part-time in the science lab, or full-time in the classroom? And so on...

Enough with the one-size-fits-all.

J Recchio's picture

[quote]Your points are well taken, Will. As a teacher, I am constantly asking myself how can I connect with the kids in my classes, especially the ones absent, the ones who don't typically work, the ones whose parents are never home and for whom I may be the only adult who speaks to them today... There are so MANY kids like that today. I am working more and more, not less, reading, researching, collaborating with other thoughtful colleagues via Twitter and this Forum, as well as others, and hoping to make a difference. Who will be my special project tomorrow? Looking for strength to endure![/quote]

I agree with the points of working more. I think we as teachers are constantly looking for ways to better connect with our students knowing that students who feel connected to school perform better. As times have changed teachers are becoming the sole educator in childrens lives. Where in past times education was gathered from home and in school. In today's society though many children come from single parent families or families where both parents work. Keep working to make a difference. Sometimes it only takes one person to make a difference and change a child's life.

Trish at The Knowing Garden's picture
Trish at The Knowing Garden
We're building a school!

Exactly! It's not how you learn, it's what you do with it. We have the framework for a not-for-profit community school that will offer Day & Flexible Schedule options. Our tenets are: whole child, constructivist learning, cooperative learning, brain function and development and capacity building. We are a start-up and are beginning the enrollment process after 10 months of hard work. We will someday offer scholarship to ensure accessibility to students because we feel diversity and broad exposure is a crucial part of the learning experience. We are open to your thoughts about our school Thank you Will and strength to the teachers who make a difference.

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