Thursday, April 8, 2010

Change, Change, Change

Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better. ~King Whitney, Jr.

I read a lot of stuff on twitter and blogs about changing education. I talk to students about what they would like to see implemented at our high school. I talk to colleagues about what changes we think would make us more effective in the classroom. I listen to politicians and commentators talk about large-scale, mandated education reform. It would appear to any observer that change is coming for the education system. My belief is that the momentum for that change is building in all of the wrong places.

At the national level, people who rarely, if ever, step foot into a classroom are leveraging funding and political clout to enact change in the form of more nationalize standards and testing, but at the local level, teachers and administrators who actually do the work of educating on a daily basis realize that none of those things will really bring about the kind of improvements that need to be made. It would be like setting out to remodel a house and bringing a camera to document your progress as the only tool. Testing does not improve student learning; it only measures it.

Time and again, I hear smart people I work with and others I only know online put forth excellent plans for revamping the way in which education is offered to students. Most of it is almost completely budget neutral, so money is not the issue. It is not that we can't afford to try something new; the problem is gaining enough support to give it a shot, or even to settle on which direction to go. The second problem, I think, can be easily solved by taking the time to sit down with all stakeholders and have a long, detailed, and exhaustive discussion until everyone feels that the collaborative plan is the best possible. The disagreements I've had with people end up being matters of semantics rather than actual concrete differences of vision, so I'm sure time and effort could bring those in favor of changes together.

The problem that does not seem to go away is that of people feeling the current system works fine just the way it is. For these people, I don't know what to say. Nowhere else in our society does there exist a system that has remained as unchanged as education for as long as education has remained largely unchanged. We are using and education model developed during the Industrial Revolution to prepare students for jobs in the Technology Revolution. We are following a system designed to produce factory workers to educate students who will be entering a marketplace for people with skills we are unable to develop in our classrooms as they exist today. It is not surprising that a growing number of young people are failing out of college and ending up living with their parents well into adulthood.

In the back of my mind, I can't help but wonder if these people really believe the current system works, or if they are simply afraid of what a changed system would resemble. Would they be needed? Would they be as good at it as they are at the current way of doing things? Would they go from admired and respected to outdated and useless? I think the biggest hurdle for change in education today is taking those who are afraid and inspiring them to be confident that we can do better. We can be more innovative and effective than the teachers we had. We can be better than the generations that came before us. We can revolutionize education and improve the lives of our students by simply believing that our ideas are just as valid, or more valid, than the ideas of the men who implemented the current system, and by doing so, we are not saying that the old system was bad or flawed, but simply that we have outgrown it the way a child outgrows their clothes. The bottom line is that if we are afraid to venture forward into the unknown on our own terms, we will be forced into on someone else's.

Wordle: Change, Change, Change