Let’s start with a no-brainer: No Education Without Immediate And Practical Application.
That sums up all that I know about learning, teaching, and education. All that I have observed and found true since I began teaching in 1961. It is the key to understanding why the education systems have been failing our children. It is the key to understanding why educators who have attempted to introduce, demonstrate and prove beyond question that there is a better way of organizing our educational systems have been unable to bring about the necessary changes.
It explains why the work of brilliant philosophers like John Dewey, myriads of educators from Harvard, Columbia, Stanford and other major academic institutions, and thousands of competent teachers and educators on the line, in the field, where the educational programs are delivered, have failed to change the structure of our schools. It is a structure that works so well as a top-down form of coercion that it is immune to change and is self-perpetuating.
The reality is that our schools are operating on the motel model. There is a main office and a series of classrooms that each have a key, a teacher, and students. The students are assigned to the room by age/grade and subject, not developmental level or their particular learning style or nature of intelligence. The teacher is isolated in his or her classroom. In rare occurrences teachers are allowed to work as a member of an interdisciplinary team (a suite), but there is no provision in the design or the school or its operating systems to support this. These “model” schools reflect a structure that is moribund, boring, and rewards obedience. Teachers inculcate, entertain, and generally are judged by how well behaved their charges are and how well their students do regurgitating canned information on tests.
Consider this: John Dewey stated clearly that [units of] education must end in contributions of the individual to society and to himself. I have never known anyone who disagrees with this. Yet I have only seen a few examples of its practical application survive the uncompromising forces of coercive systems.
I have observed outstanding teachers create learning experiences that allow students and teachers to work together to create academic challenges and opportunities to apply what they are learning such as mock legislatures, model cities, county and state governments, student councils, science and math applications, language development workshops, interdisciplinary teaching teams and learning activities, and so much more. Given the opportunity to break through restrictions, teachers and students create vital learning opportunities that give the students power and result in contributions. Sadly, these learning activities can not flourish in structures that are not designed to allow true learning, student involvement, and effective teaching. (Deep Learning, as Michael Fullen, Global Leadership Director, New Pedagogies For Deep Learning, defines it.) Teacher’s time, resources, and student contacts must be structured so that all the elements necessary for true and vital education and the development of critical thinking through empowerment and application will happen.
When teachers work together for/with students and form interdisciplinary teams, learning accelerates and system restraints are bypassed. When top-down coercion ends (including outside interference from politicians and big business like grading schools, evaluating teachers via high stakes test results, and Federal mandates like No Child Left Behind, and the Every Student Succeeds Act, cooperative learning programs thrive, and students and teachers become co-learners.
When students and teachers are learning together administrators work to support vital learning systems which they have helped modify so as not to be impediments to learning.
What needs to change? John Dewey answered this question decades ago, “As long as politics is the shadow cast on society by big business, the attenuation of the shadow will not change the substance.” Dewey also refers to the “authority of intelligence” which must guide us. Schools that are shaped by political and business expedience and exploitation have failed. Professional educators know what to do and how to do it but we cannot do what is necessary until we evolve the way schools and learning opportunities within schools are organized.
The way teachers are taught must change. Most teacher colleges perpetuate systems that do not work well for kids. When confronted, those responsible for teacher education argue that no school district will hire teachers if they do not fit into and perpetuate the top-down coercive model. I have heard that excuse for over 50 years. They are right. The system perpetuates itself. The argument that anyone can teach and that teacher education and earned credentials are not needed is ludicrous and an indication of approaches created by those with no teaching experience in the classroom.
We know what to do:
Andy Hargreaves (Emeritus Boston College): We must work toward a future where children’s creativity and curiosity is combined with adults’ wisdom, maturity and duty of care.
Richard DuFour (Noted for creating strategies to create collaborative teaching environments.)
Ann Leiberman (Stanford and Columbia. Professional Development, teacher leadership.)
Linda Darling-Hammond (Stanford. National Commission On Teaching and America’s Future.)
Diane Ravitch (New York University. Founder and President of the Network for Public Education. Blogs reaching more than 30 million concerned citizens).
John Goodlad (UCLA. Analysis of the culture of schools and the reasons for their failure.)
# Michael Fullan (A great place to start for a working example of how change can be incorporated. View the You Tube presentation Leading Change in Education).
America has now fallen to over twentieth place in the world ranking in education. John Dewey told us how this could be prevented. Many others (above is only a partial list) have tried to lead. Michael Fullen and the breakthroughs in Canada that have spread across the planet (except in the US) seem to be a way to evolve our systems.
The politicos and business leaders, the 1% and hedge fund shysters, the profiteers who want access to the billions of new dollars each year that taxpayers pay for education, and the religious fanatics like Betsy DeVos (‘The uneducated fool doing her idea of god’s work,’ and her oligarch ‘family’ who put race, power, greed and control above all other beliefs) have taken the fortress. Their aim is to destroy and redirect the American public education system so that it serves the few. They are guaranteeing the failure of public education and are close to destroying the roots of our democracy.
Our education system can be redefined. I’m nearing my 8th decade and I am optimistic. But it is up to you, especially the millennials as you come into power and position yourselves to make changes. America’s dream of education for all, public education, is worth evolving and changing. Start searching for leaders who offer solutions. Begin with Michael Fullen and his New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, NPDL.
Make it so!