Chris shook my brain awake this morning with his reflections on change and Shirky and I’m still trying to sort through some of his finer points. Suffice to say, that it’s among the best posts I’ve read this year because it articulates so clearly where much of this is at and, perhaps, where it needs to go.
The where it’s at stuff is easy to get to, but hard to accept. And, as Chris says, our collective fear of failure, both of our schools and of our kids, is at the crux of the problem. Most are content with “predictably mediocre” schools because the risks associated with change are simply not worth it at this moment. It’s this risk/reward equation that I keep getting drawn to as well, and I keep feeling more and more that schools will not change until the external expectations change, and that the expectations that matter most reside in parents. We need to reframe that lens, and we need to do it fast. And “predictably mediocre” as language may not be a bad starting point. (That’s not what I want for my kids’ school.) But until we can celebrate the successes of “riskier”, change oriented schools like SLA, until we can make a compelling case that not only are the risks a) not that risky and b) imperative for preparing our kids, those risks will continue to be unpalatable.
And then there’s Tom, who is helping me understand “The Role of Chris Lehmann in the Universe.” As Tom points out, there are other progressive schools that might fit that bill, but their efforts are not nearly as transparent as Chris’s in the context of the technologies and tools we use in this community. I love the exclamation point he adds when he suggests that there have been “whole books” written about these places! The idea!
Tom asks if this is a problem in any sense, the fact that these schools and their principals aren’t blogging and Twittering and going to NECC. I wonder in the context of Shirky’s larger point that group action is enhanced by the ability to connect online if it isn’t a problem on some level. I wonder if a transparent network of successful “high-risk” schools connected through social tools wouldn’t at this moment be a boon to the larger discussion of school reform. And this is one of the more interesting effects of all of this, that right now, connecting around books is simply not as easy as connecting around blogs.
Which brings things to the “where all this needs to go” part of Chris’s post which is easier to read but harder to get to. How do we, in Shirky’s parlance, act collectively? Chris offers up some great, concrete, starting points, all of which are daunting to think about on any number of different levels because they inexorably lead to that inherent friction between traditional organization and collaborative group effort. There are new models being built in this process as well. What structure would we build? To what extent can it be owned by the many and not the few? Wikipedia is struggling with this right now. Obama is. It would be an interesting, yet difficult road, one that, as Chris points out, would be easier today than it was 10 years ago. And it could be oh so amazing if we pulled it off.
Much to think about, no doubt.
One more thing: Yesterday, when I picked Tess up from shooting (basketball) camp, she was sporting a new t-shirt, on the back of which read: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Debra Baker says
If Obama received hundreds (thousands) of Tweets asking him to challenge McCain to a debate about education in this country, would he act on it? This would be an intriguing experiment. A debate, while obviously not a solution, might get educational issues on the front pages, get people talking at least. The silence on education in this campaign is killing me, especially as I watch documentaries and am reminded of the future of countries like India and China (like Ted Koppel’s piece last night on Discovery). Anyway, I just sent my tweet to Obama. Let’s get the ball rolling here…
Chris’s post (and your response to it) were a great way to wake-up this morning. I am excited about the concrete ideas posed here, and hard work has never frightened me. Hard work has never frightened most educators that I know.
Carolyn Foote says
I often think of the expression, “first, do no harm.” I think we have this idea that the mediocre but “okay” method of education is safe because it doesn’t appear to harm anyone, while riskier attempts might do harm.
But in fact, it seems to me it is the other way around.
When we don’t offer our students the most engaged and passionate education they deserve because we are playing it safe, we are doing harm. They end up missing so many amazing opportunities to really engage with learning and engage with their own intellectual lives.
Chris’ post raises so many excellent concerns, I agree.
Where does grass roots meet the organized world, as you ask? I don’t know the answer, but as Shirky so eloquently demonstrates–the two do meet somewhere in the real world and lead to real change.
Stephen C. Veliz says
Parental expectations!! That’s it!! Our schools are what they are because parents are content with simple window dressing instead of fundamental reform and/or transformation.
If you’ve seen Two Million Minutes, and regardless of whether or not you agree with the central thesis, you should recognize that it is an indictment of American culture, not educators. American culture = parental expectations.
Scott McLeod says
Death by risk aversion, courtesy of Kathy Sierra:
In a country the education has to be the first thing, but sometimes we forget that is important that we claim for the right of have a better education in our country.