Education is broken. It’s not only broken, it’s condemned. Not condemned like going to hell with Satan in the after life. Condemned as in when a building is unsustainable and must be torn down. A condemned building in need of destruction. We do not need fixes or reform to our current education system. We need to dismantle it to make way for a brand new structure.
There are four reasons, at least four today, that reforming and fixing the current education system will not work. Four reasons why the only thing that will save our kids and the future of learning in America is to bring out the wrecking ball and start over from scratch. Those reasons are:
- It’s out-dated.
- It doesn’t serve the purpose it was created to serve.
- It’s a limited-channel model in an infinite-channel world.
- It’s failing our children.
The current model of education has not changed in over 100 years. Is there any other method of doing anything in any industry that has not changed in over 100 years? Then why has the entry into all the other professions – school – not changed with the rest of the world? How is it that our great-grandparents experienced school in the same way that our children are experiencing it right now? Did our great-grandparents experience work, travel, communication, food, news, media, leisure, and family in the same way our children are experiecning those things today?
The world has changed fast, but the gears of the old, out-dated system are still turning. The mindsets in the education world are generations behind everyone else, and yet we profess to prepare children for the world. It is a travesty and hypocritical of us to say out of one side of our mouths that we value creativity, innovation, and forward-thinking while still being a cog in the giant machine of an ancient system.
My sister updates her phone every year. When was the last time you gave your school an update?
No Longer Serves it’s Original Purpose
What was the original purpose of school? Why did it end up this way? Of course, there’s the typical answer of wanting to serve the needs of the increasing population of American children. There’s the myth that the school calendar was created with the summers off to accomodate a farming lifestyle. There’s all sorts of happy and pleasant things people could say that create glossy pictures of the original purpose of school. But here’s the hard truth:
The original purpose of school was conformity.
When the Industrial Revolution really picked up steam, the powers that be had a problem. When Henry Ford started the assembly-line model of business, those trying to educate the young had another problem. How to prepare children, who are wild, unpredictable, untameable, empty vessels waiting for us to rear and train them, for a life of work on an assembly line. Mindless work in which a person does the same tiny movement in the same tiny job in the same tiny space for decades, then takes their pension and retires frugally and peacefully in their daughter’s home.
But the problem is that the assembly-line workforce doesn’t exist anymore. So we’re rearing a child in an assembly-line method to prepare them for a life of work in a non-assembly-line world. There are millions of new jobs being invented every day. There are jobs that we cannot even conceive of that will be available for our students once they finally graduate from high school or college.
The purpose of school as conformity needs to be thrown out. We need a new purpose for school. We have to ask ourselves, now, in this new world in which we live, what is school for?
What is the purpose of school?
Limited-Channel Model in an Infinite-Channel World
When TV first came into homes in the 1950’s and 1960’s, there were only three, maybe four, channels available. The technology only allowed content to be shared on a limited amount of the wave length spectrum. Radio was the same way. Everyone in the nation listened to or watched the same content at the same time in the same place. A person was literally forced to watch whatever was provided or not watch TV at all.
But today, in 2019, we have an infinite amount of content available to us broadcasted on an infinite amount of the full spectrum. You can literally choose to watch whatever the hell comes into your pretty little head to watch, and it will be available to you whenever and wherever you want it.
School is operating on a limited-channel spectrum. This is the content, and you can get this content at this particular time in this particular place and in this particular way. These content choices are made for you by people with more power (race, age, status, money, etc etc) than you. You can choose to “watch” what is provided or not watch at all. And the students who choose not to watch at all are the ones who cause the disruptions, and get suspended, or expelled, or drop out, or just get by until graduation. Those are the people who we miss because we fail to open up to the full spectrum.
We don’t have to limit ourselves and our students to a three-channel programming. We can change education to an infinite-channel model. We can use the full spectrum. Perhaps a group of students would learn more about the life cycle of a fish by going on a field trip on a salmon-fishing boat (if your geographic area allows it). Maybe another group of kids would learn more about the life cycle of a fish by having pet fish, or by reading a fiction book about a salmon, or by watching a video about grizzly bears and salmon. Or perhaps one child is ready to read about the life cycle of a fish but another child is still working on the concept of a food chain, and yet another child is tackling the categories of animals into mammals, reptiles, etc. Can they all learn in the same room? Why not? In a full-spectrum model, we as teacher are no longer the “Gate-Keepers of Content.” Content is out there and free and available 24-7. Instead, teachers can be the “Sense-Makers” and the Facilitators and the Connection-Makers of the content. We can be the one that says, “So, you don’t understand the classification of animals in this way? Why don’t we try it in that way?”
Failing Our Students
We are setting up our kids for failure because we are raising them in a limited spectrum to go out into a full spectrum. We are also going to start meeting with a lot of resistance as kids (and parents!) start to figure out the huge disconnect in channels.
There are disconnects between educational talk/theory and educational practice. It’s as if someone is telling us to walk forward while at the same time they are pushing us backward.
How can we say that we value creativity and innovation while continuing a tradition of standardization? How can we claim to prepare our students for college and career when we are working for different career options than what will be available to them when they finally make it through the system? How can we claim to teach collaboration and problem solving when our students sit in desks by themselves and work on things that have been dissected by a teacher?
The kids whose parents get it, those who have figured out how disconnected school is from real life, have already jumped ship. We are left with the kids who don’t have the means or the opportunity to find something better. We have a responsibility to them to give them that something better. The classes in America are widening every day between the people who grow up in the truly creative, innovative, and collaborative environments and those stuck in out-dated, purposeless, limited-spectrum environments. We all win when we raise the bottom to meet those at the top.
Letting Go of the Old to Make Room for the New
I was very reluctant to have a smart board in my classroom. As a music teacher, I felt convinced that having that kind of technology would require me to do a whole bunch of tech-y things that would take away from the performance aspect of my subject. I pride myself on my students doing things the “old-fashioned” way, where we read music to learn a piece on instruments then prepare it to perform for the school, and family and friends.
My principal put a smart board in my room one year without my approval. It had been donated to the school, so it just showed up on my wall one day. It sat there, unused, for a whole school year. Then, for another whole school year I only used it for videos and movies. Finally, I got it completely set up with my computer and everything. Now, I can’t believe how I taught without it. And I still do performance pieces in which my students read and compose music to perform at concerts. It didn’t take away anything from my creativity and the soul of my content.
Change is hard. No one likes to be told, “You’re doing it wrong.” But, just because this is the way we’ve been doing it for a long time doesn’t mean it’s right. In my experience, embracing change has resulted in better ways of working and living. Things have happened when I jump into changes that I had never even conceived of before. When I left my ex-husband I thought my life was over. But it was the beginning of my real life. If you had told me then where I’d be now, I would have laughed in your face. Married (to a Republican!), two beautiful children, 40 years old, and a successful teacher, writer, blogger, and speaker. I was supposed to move to San Francisco and become a street musician! But I fell into the change that my life gave me and found myself here.
Education can be the same. We can change everything. We don’t have to do things the way we always have, just because we have always done them that way. We can start to stand up and speak up for the children who are being left behind.