I just got back from Australia…what a confusing place that is! They use dollars, but not the same dollars as the US (obviously). They are 16-18 hours behind my beloved Mountain time zone, depending on the time of year. Australia uses centigrade, so when I asked what the temperature would be one evening and heard, “10-15″…I was hosed. I was asked several times if I was staying in the CBD, to which I incorrectly answered, “No, I’m staying at the Hilton…”
But at the end of the day, all of the differences aside, one thing seems to be universal – even down under. Education is in trouble. Talking to educators ended up in the same conversations I have in the states, just counter-clockwise. They’re worried about quality, outcomes assessment, education dollars, and authentic curriculum just like we are in the states. Australian teachers have problem students, problem parents, and problems with administrators just like teachers in the states. Administrators have difficulty with rogue teachers, consumer minded students, and whether to go online with all programs, just like the states. In fact, it seems that we’re all in the same boat for just about every major, educational trend I know of.
So I have to ask…WHY? Why do so few countries seem to get it right? Why are there so many problems? Why aren there so few innovators and visionaries leading the (correct) way down a path towards enlightenment?
Luckily, I have an answer. It’s simple, really: argumentum ad antiquitatem is what it’s all about. Yep, a simple fallacy in reasoning is the culprit behind decades of inaction and fearful speculation. The appeal to tradition is paralyzing education around the world…
Ok, so maybe it’s not just that simple, but listen for a moment to my reasoning. If you look at most scholars who gauge educational relevance, they’ll put it somewhere between 3 and 5 decades late. In other words, educators still teach out-dated theories, practices that nobody uses anymore, and terminology that few “real world” practicioners understand. On top of that, most teachers use methods that are years behind, we force students to learn the ways in which we learned, and we ignore brain research instead focusing on antiquated learning theory.
So you may be sitting there getting frustrated by these comments. If so, odds are that you are 1) a teacher guilty of this (99% likely are…) or 2) an innovator who wants desperately to change things. Well friends, I’m with the innovators. For example, it still amazes me how few, traditional teachers accept the Internet as a viable way to educate. Is it best in every situation? Of course not. Is it better than on-ground teaching in many situations? Absolutely. I can show you rich, authentic, meaningful digital assets that will measurably enhance learning. Of course it’s scary too. It provides a level of accountability that educators aren’t necessarily used to. Data mining is changing the face of online education and the measures / assessments brought with it are going to cause tremendous angst for some instructors. I’ve been in meetings where teacher’s union representatives have flat out denied the viability of online education explaining, “…we’ve never needed to teach that way before…” (yikes)
So you want a fix? Ok – here’s one. Call your Congressman – talk to your local school board – write our President. It will take a small portion of the education budget and some guts. But here we go…
Offer X grants per state for innovative education ideas. Something like 3 schools per state would likely work. One should be elementary, one should be high school, and one should be at the college / university level. The key is in the proposal – it has to be “out of the box” and it has to be adopted institution wide. What would “innovative” look like? Well, I don’t know exactly. The beauty of innovation is that it draws from the collective brain trust. BUT, one key aspect of the proposal would be measurement. How do you measure success? That question has to be answered farily and justly in order to receive consideration. For the opponents of NCLB, this gives them the opportunity to create their own measures. For the proponents, they can use the metrics already in place if desired. But real measurement must provide the outcome.
Let me give one example to get the ball rolling. How about the New City School in St Louis? This is a school where every student has a DEEP understanding of HOW s/he learns. As a result, diversity is embraced without being forced. Collaboration becomes second nature to these kids. And all the while, they see how they BEST learn, while figuring out how to mitigate their own lack of learning styles. In other words, they learn practical application of authentic tasks & assessment – what better way do we have to prepare students for the real world? THAT is innovative.
So, we get 3 schools per state to “pilot” a program for 1, 2, maybe even 3 years. Do you know what we get when we’re done? 150 case studies. We get 150 stories of success or failure. We see what might work, what likely wouldn’t work, and what we should consider rolling out to dozens…heck, to hundreds of schools. It might involve new ways of designing curriculum, different textbook configurations, innovative projects, new uses for technology, providing students with unique tools, or a myriad of other ideas.
We have always been a country that embraces innovation and creativity. While that’s not easy for big business or our government, as a country we still idealize the concept that a new way of doing something may be effective. (Obviously we have to be cautious of the fallacy of novelty…that’s another blog.) So let’s put our money where our mouths are. Let’s let educators put up or shut up. I believe in my heart that there are some creative, innovative educators out there with some potential solutions to our education crisis. Let’s give them a stage to present their ideas and potentially shine.
So would this “fix” education? Probably not. We’re talking about a system that has problems from top to bottom. Just look at the problem with cafeteria foods as it correlates to learning, obesity, and focus (http://www.jamieoliver.com/school-dinners). But, might this start the ball rolling to get more and more of our students educated in a system that creates a more competetive employee! At least I think it might.
So let’s see. I read article after article in INC., WIRED, NEWSWEEK, FORBES, and dozens of other publications about how to tap into innovation and creativity. Why don’t we start modeling and (therefore) teaching it to our students right now? It could lead to education reform that helps us financially, academically, and systemically. Creativity could lead us to a system of education that prepares students for a real world future…whatever continent of our world they may happen to reside in.
Would you like to talk about innovation in education? Want to learn how to both teach and assess creativity in your students? Contact jborden@jeffpresents for more information!