Resisting our way to irrelevance?

Just about every day now I read a blog or a get an email or are a posting on face book or twitter that reminds us that ‘ schools are preparing kids for the 20th century living’’; or ‘did you know that your grandmother would be very much at home in the classrooms of today?’  etc.

Virtually EVERYONE agrees that much of what we practice as ‘schooling’ today is, at the very least, outdated and,   at its extreme, could have dire long term consequences for society.  Both those who hire new graduates, as well professors of first year university students consistently complain about poor communication skills (speaking AND writing) , poor work ethic (sense of entitlement) , and little to no critical and creative  thinking. And innovation…well, seems that only lives in mission statements.

Despite our lofty rhetoric and those mission statements, we are still doing pretty much what we have always done and – surprise- we are still getting what we have gotten for the past many decades.  And I could not agree more…in fact I have been a co-conspirator in the spreading of those messages…for most of my 30+ years in education.

So why are we STILL hearing it, now 13 years into the century?   Just about every other industry or collective human endeavor has responded fairly rigorously to the changing landscape of human activity and civilization -and many industries have actually CREATED the 21st century skills.  So what’s up with education?  The ONE industry that, in theory, all the others depend on?

Why are we in school apparently so resistant? Why do we continue to engage in practices that we actually know don’t’ work and teach a curriculum that we –and all of society – know is outdated and ill-equipping our kids?

A few of my ‘whys’:

1.      The parent trap.  Everyone is an expert in education because they had one once… unlike technology, or medicine, or telecommunications, parents have been to school.  They have been primary ‘users’ of the place called school and the thinking goes… ‘I turned out pretty much ok, didn’t I’ (they think) – so just keep doing what you did when I was in school.’   Familiarity as a design principle for schooling actually breeds complacency.

2.      Chicken- hearted.   Accountability is only for the ‘real’ world.  Despite all the rhetoric, even in private, international schools, we do not hold ourselves accountable for the actual bottom line of our work…learning.  It is stunning that the schooling industry STILL manages to sell the notion that teachers should in no way be evaluated on how their students learn, or whether they learn.  How can any reputable, worthy effort NOT be measured by the one thing it is designed to produce?  The data on the effect of teachers on learning are strong and clear.  We seem afraid, very afraid, to hold our own feet to the fire… and we get away with it.

3.      No proof. And no way to get it.  This one is a killer.  We don’t want to make a guinea pig out of any kid – it’s SO much better to continue using methodologies that we KNOW don’t work!  Far be it from any school to ‘experiment’.  We need proof…lots of proof…that something works before we consider it.  So who starts? Where are the R and D departments in schools?  And by the way, we could list right here ten things we already know about learning that we do not see routinely in schools…because of the ‘selective ’proof approach so many of us take.

4.      Universities…the albatross? Probably a good 80% of what we do in K12 schools is rationalized with…’but that’s’ what universities expect and far be it from us to, again, jeopardize any kid’s chances’. Course-based rather than competency-based curriculum; 180 days of seat time; grading schemes, essay writing, exams…what’s a school to do? That’s what they want so we must comply. Could it be that just maybe it’s not all their fault? That our education industry has failed to fully engage in the right, ongoing conversation between k12 and higher education.

And finally…

5.      Wimpy leaders. Yes, it true.  While we have many well-intentioned, organized, learning-centered school leaders, far too many – I go out on a limb and say most- won’t/don’t get out of the proverbial box.  In our international schools, we are typically INDEPENDENT of restrictive bureaucracy and run our schools in organizational environments where we able to turn on dime – but we don’t…at least not often enough.  Could it be leadership capitulates all too often to the parent trap or chicken-heartedness, plays the ‘proof’ card or hides behind the university albatross?

Worth wondering as we approach ever closer to the cliff of irrelevance.

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