Guest article for The Education Question with Chris Margolin, July 2018.
What is education in the modern era?
Education in the modern era still has two major barriers that many school leaders and policy makers do not discuss, let alone try to address within the current state of our school systems and school system budget structures in America. One would argue that schools have changed dramatically over the years and I stipulate that, yes, there are facets of education that have progressed into the modern era of education, but as I wrote a piece for DisruptED in June 2018, I am now hearing more and more about what school leaders are trying to do to wiggle out of the traditional structures and physical walls of education. And, when I say “traditional structures,” I mean that in its most distilled, existential, simplistic, brick-and-mortar, physical sense.
Coupled with the bricks are the thrones. Teacher led, teacher fed. Teacher created educational curricula. But, more on that later.
Yes, these are our buildings. Our schools. Capital project approved windows. Repairs to roofs that sit upon the very same structures that our students must show up to and learn in like our grandfather’s grandfather did—where his picture still sits on a concrete wall in a hallway by the gymnasium somewhere because he broke a track record when the school had a fresher paint job that is now peeling away in 2018. Yes, these are still the buildings where updated facilities for a new music and arts center, athletic facility, or community center are proudly reported by school officials and school board members to be the crème de la crème in their local community. But, there still is one problem: the bricks.
Most of my learning as an adult rely on technological tools and social gatherings whether they take place online or in person. Sure, I show up to a place built with bricks to meet with people, but I don’t really need to go to a physical place to learn, think, and create. The problem with bricks is that they are still holding up not just our schools, but our notions about what classrooms should do for children who attend school, rather than skip out on these brick structures because they don’t serve their modern needs.
So, until industry refreshes the collaborative process with education and education lets industry in on our planet built out of bricks, nothing will dramatically change--at least in this century. Distance learning can become a real thing with more widespread appeal if we let it. Teachers will still be needed. Leaders will still need to construct. But, their construction hats will not be hard hats on a construction site. They will become technological hats—places where our students will go like never before in order to think, learn, research, and prepare for modern era industry that has already changed since I’ve written this article. Our policy makers must think about what education really is and can be or we will continue to build structures that we mandate children to show up to as we take digital attendance and think that we’ve advanced.
Teacher led. Teacher decided. Teacher talk. Teacher created. Teacher driven. These are the tenets of the backbones of their thrones. Inside the bricks, there are thousands and thousands of teachers who believe that they are the center of attention. There are thousands and thousands of school leaders who believe that they are in charge. Yet, students are sitting by, letting it kind of work out that way, because this is what they are used to and to speak up about not really liking traditional school structures within modern day education would be perceived by the adults as treason. This is what they have observed since their early years. So, this is what they think education is supposed to be like. But then they drop out or, worse, commit suicide.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen incredibly talented teachers work magic and place children at the center of what they do. They innovate with children alongside them. They access student voice and choice. But, there is still the barrier of the bricks that teachers have to navigate through each day and wiggle around, tip-toe around, or live with because the bigger ideas about designing education without walls are too scary, too costly, or laden with other excuses about why we can’t change the status quo or why it is someone else’s job to change it. Our egos are too fragile to admit that we just don’t know how to construct a modern education without walls, so we just stick to the bricks all around us until we are too tired of complaining about it any longer. So, collectively, even the most amazing teacher on the planet of modern era education still might have to physically go to work and reside in their brick-built classroom.
Can we have a discussion about bricks and thrones? Can we get an amazing group of thought leaders together consisting of both adults and students at the local and national level and start to work with those who hold the policy keys and purse strings to all of these brick-and-mortar school systems? I’ll show up to the planning meetings, but maybe we could save on travel costs by meeting remotely?