A couple of moments from my short hiatus have been occupying my thoughts the last few days. The first was the opportunity to listen to and later briefly meet Sir Ken Robinson at an arts conference I presented at in New Jersey two weeks ago. The other was listening to the final presentations of my Seton Hall Ed.D. students as they talked about their technology journeys this year.
What strikes me is how little if anything seems to be changing in public schools, despite what I think are some pretty compelling cases for change that are out there. (I know, I know…back to this again.) Let me tell you a couple of stories.
A building principal at a small public school in upstate New York told us at Seton Hall that just this year, when she wanted to begin using a flash drive on the computer at her school, she was told she couldn’t by the IT person in the district who was afraid that doing so would cause all sorts of havoc on the network. Finally, after some begging, the IT person agreed to open up one computer in the library for all flash drive use in the school. And not for kids.
Another building principal read a letter that his IT person wrote to his board that included a bulleted list of reasons why the district should not pursue the purchase of laptops for the school, everything from laptops are just a craze, to laptops get stolen, to the expense of shipping and handling . Not only that, but no school in his district can move ahead of any other school when it comes to technology. So if one school wants laptops, but another school doesn’t, then neither school (or any other school in the district, for that matter) can get them.
(Of course, there is the flipside as well, the districts that have the ability (or the connections) to create media centers and mobile media labs that will immerse their kids in the content creation and media literacies that they’ll need to compete. The gulf between the two is striking.)
What’s shocking in these stories is that it’s not just about control of the technologies in the classroom with students. It’s about control of top administrators in their own personal use of technology. I mean, if we’re just now letting principals use flash drives in their schools, how long will it take to get to where kids and teachers are creating and connecting? And what, in the end, does all of this control, which no doubt washes down to the students, teach them about using self control? That’s the hardest part of this for me to get to at times. The only ways our kids will learn to navigate the world is if we give them the tools and opportunities to use them in their practice. How can they learn that self-control if we’re always controlling everything? What a horrible lesson.
In his keynote, Sir Ken said something along the lines of “we have to stop talking about school reform and start thinking about school ‘transform’.” And that transformation has a lot to do with ceding control of so much of what we currently do. He also noted that instead of an industrial model, we need an “agrarian model,” one where instead of standardizing every output, we nourish the environment to allow each to grow at it’s own, most effective pace. The picture he painted looked so different from the pictures being painted by those administrators. Hard to see when, if ever, the two become one.