Given the common sense arguments for learning that run counter to the current day structures and practices of schools, it would seem that a real rethinking of our education system would have happened long before now. It’s hard to argue that forcing kids to learn the same thing on the same day in the same place at the same pace with other kids their same age from their same neighborhood with the same teacher to be assessed in the same way is built on any sound theory of learning and not instead focused on being as efficient as possible in “delivering” an education to our kids. Kids don’t learn that way before they become school age, and no one learns like that in real life. Imagine, if you can, if we set the same conditions for our adult learning. We wouldn’t stand for it, would we?
But despite the obvious problems with the structures, we come up with all sorts of reasons for not changing. It’s because we can’t ignore the state assessments. Or we can’t change the structures. Or we can’t make the parents upset. Or we can’t ask the unions to change. Or we can’t risk our college placement rankings. Or we can’t…
And that is the word, “can’t,” that we use to quell any real discussion of change and reform. Real change is just not possible. It just can’t be done.
But here’s the thing: in my travels, I’ve seen every one of the “can’ts” overcome in one school or another. A number of schools don’t give grades because they think they’re detrimental to learning, yet their kids end up going to great colleges if they so desire. Other schools have mixed age groups because they believe that’s a better condition for learning. There are schools that have created relationships with parents so that when change is needed, the community comes out in support of an at times even initiates the change. And there are schools who have stood up to the state assessors and asked for and received waivers to what they see as counterproductive policies and practices. Or, they convince constituents that the test scores are not where real learning and preparedness for the modern world resides.
If we’re honest, it’s not about “can’t.” Instead, it’s about “won’t.” We won’t do those things, even though common sense says we ought to, because we don’t have the conviction or the courage or, importantly, the conscience to do them. And so, we introduce cosmetic changes meant to soften the disconnect between what we believe and what we do all the while knowing deep in our learning minds that we’re trying to do the wrong thing right. (I know, broken record.)
Sure, real change that requires us to think differently about the experience we provide for our kids is extremely difficult. And it challenges centuries of history and practice.
But let’s be clear: it is not impossible.
It’s happening all around us.
If we want to resist real change in our schools, so be it. But let’s just own the fact that it’s not that it can’t be done.
It’s that we won’t do it.
(Photo Credit: Maurits Verbiest)