So here’s a little state of the world update from my recent trip to Wisconsin to speak at the state school board association conference there.
First, let me say there are a lot of folks who are beginning to talk with more relevance around change when it comes to education. The rhetoric, at least, around inquiry and problem based, student-centered classrooms seems to be expanding despite the frequent references to “higher student achievement” and “college readiness” that at the end of the day still drives the conversation around reform. As most know, Wisconsin is at the center of the firestorm when it comes to rethinking education, and not much of that rethink resonates with the real world, to be honest. But I met a lot of people who seem at least to be waking up to the realities of the moment and who seem willing to engage deeply in the big questions that all of us have to be asking when it comes to what best serves our students and their learning lives.
Two moments of zen…
First, as I normally do, I asked the 2,000 or so folks in attendance to raise their hands if I could go onto Google and find examples of their best practice or thinking around how to meet the educational challenges of the day and learn from their experiences or connect with them for a conversation. Two hands went up. Two. I know that most of these folks were school board members, but the silence that followed really struck me. How can they make policy and advocate for meaningful changes in what happens in schools without any practical sense of the connected, transparent world in which we now exist?
Second, US Senator Herb Kohl was in attendance (at least until I got up to speak…maybe someone warned him.) Twenty-four years in the senate, a man respected in Wisconsin and obviously well-liked. He helped present some awards to teachers and gave a short, very supportive speech to the audience thanking them for their work with kids in their state. Seemed like a very nice, thoughtful person.
But I couldn’t help thinking as I watched him amble out of the hall that there’s no way he has any clue about what’s really happening with education right now. In fact, in this country run by primarily old white guys who probably don’t know the difference between a Blackberry and a strawberry, guys who pretty much get their talking points from aides and advisors, I can’t imagine many if any of them have a clue. I think some of them probably woke up a bit with the whole SOPA protest, but by and large, I wonder to what extent our leaders can even hold a conversation around the ways in which the Web is impacting education. And the money to keep things status quo is flowing on Capitol Hill.