“Last night, George Couros Tweeted this:
“I think when we say things like ‘school is broken’ it really demeans the hard work of so many educators who make school awesome everyday.”
As I would have expected, it was retweeted and favorited widely. The sentiment is, of course, that the failures of schools, perceived or real, shouldn’t be ascribed to the teachers who work with our kids every day. As George suggests, there are a great number of caring, smart, hard working adults in schools around the world who are trying to make school “the best seven-hours of a kids day” as my friend Gary Stager puts it.
What I can’t read in that Tweet is to what extent George feels schools are in fact “broken,” if he feels that way at all. And if they are failing in some aspects, is it possible to say that without “demeaning” the people that work in them?
As someone who finds the experience of traditional schooling to be increasingly out of step with the real world, and as someone who has come to believe that schools actually are “broken” in many ways, how do I write and speak about those viewpoints without being heard or read as hurtful or demeaning to educators in schools? Is that possible?
And if schools are in fact “broken” in either large or small ways, are we to hold all teachers blameless for that? Really?
Responses to George’s Tweet ran from sentiments like it’s easier to say it’s broken than to be a part of the solution, to the system is flawed and teachers struggle within it, to moving the rhetoric away from schools altogther and to put the blame squarely on the system.
I feel a tension underneath all of this that makes this conversation difficult. First, the definitions of “broken” and the concomitant “solutions” are so all over the place that it’s hard to even know what we’re talking about here. I think the fact that only 44% of our kids reporting engagement in high school strongly suggests “broken.” I think the difference of educational opportunities for the kids in Camden vs. the kids at Lawrenceville Prep is “broken.” I think spending an inordinate amount of time on curriculum that will soon be forgotten, curriculum that most kids don’t care about despite our best efforts to make them care, curriculum that then gets assessed in ways that really don’t show if kids can actually apply it and is used to evaluate teachers in a blatantly unfair way…all of that is “broken.” Among the solutions, I think we need to get rid of most of the stuff we currently teach and, instead, create classrooms where kids have more freedom and agency to pursue the things they are most interested or passionate to learn. And I think we have to fundamentally redefine the roles of the adults who share space with kids in school.
Others will disagree. Their versions of “broken” may be much less extreme than mine. Their solutions less radical or progressive. And that’s absolutely fine. Let’s talk and debate and listen.
But what might be most “broken” is the idea that we can’t have these conversations around change, conversations that push a re-examination and re-evaluation of the fundamental functions of schools and classrooms and teachers, that we can’t talk about that openly and honestly because we might offend some of those caring, smart, hard working adults in schools who may take those conversations personally. That any negative descriptor for the school experience can’t be used because it might be found demeaning.
If the two are inseparable, then we better be fully ok with the status quo.
Josh Stumpenhort, one of those responding to George, Tweeted the “System is not broken. Just in need of a revolution. :)”
Last time I checked, revolutions aren’t painless.