Finnish educator and author Pasi Sahlberg writing in yesterday’s Washington Post:
Many reformers believe that the quality of education improves when schools compete against one another. In order to compete, schools need more autonomy, and with that autonomy comes the demand for accountability. School inspections, standardized testing of students, and evaluating teacher effectiveness are consequences of market-like competition in many school reforms today. Yet when schools compete against one another, they cooperate less.
One thing that fatigues me more than almost anything about the United States is our compulsion with competition. We have to be the best in the world at seemingly everything…cars, solar panels, education…and if we’re not, some committee will be created to study the “problem” and figure out how to remedy the situation and get us back on top. In education, we’ve totally gone off the rails in terms of assessing kids and teachers and schools by test scores and AP classes and all sorts of other meaningless stuff that no one thinks about or remembers three years after the fact.
Look, I’m not against healthy competition. My kids play sports, and I think they can learn a great deal being on teams that are striving for a common goal and, in the end, experiencing wins as well as losses. And I know great ideas and products are many times borne out of the competitive spirit. There’s nothing inherently wrong with striving to be better than another in ways that promote and sustain goodness in the world.
But we need a different lens on a national level these days. At a moment where so much knowledge is at our fingertips, and when we’re facing so many seemingly insurmountable problems, we need to spend more of our time figuring out how to work together instead of work against each other. And this is especially true in education.
I think it’s interesting that Sahlberg eschews the word collaboration here. And I’ve been persuaded by Stephen Downes and Harold Jarche and others that really, we need to talk less about collaborating in networks and focus instead on cooperation. The difference is not subtle. Mike Caulfield summarizes:
The neat thing about cooperation is that if you can structure a solution to a problem as a cooperative one rather than a collaborative one you can solve very big problems in a very short amount of time — because at it’s best, cooperation requires simply that you do what you normally do, but in a way that allows cooperation.
And according to Jarche, at it’s most basic level, cooperation means sharing. For cooperation to happen, we need to be participating transparently with the idea that others can build upon what we share, reshare it, curate it, connect it or whatever else. In that vein, it’s why we need to promote a “network literacy” that supports our ability to find, analyze, synthesize and share information and knowledge in safe, effective and ethical ways. In my discussions and snap polling of education audiences, I can tell you we’re nowhere near a tipping point with that in schools.
This competition to cooperation thing requires a huge culture shift here in the States. The longer we wait to begin to immerse our students to the principles and literacies of sharing and participation, the longer it will take for that shift to occur.