Iâ€™m poking around in â€œPresenceâ€ by Peter Senge (and others), a book about â€œprofound change in people, organizations, and society.â€ (I can hear the chorus of boos alreadyâ€¦why another non-education book to figure out education?) And when I say â€œpoking,â€ I mean it. As Iâ€™m sometimes wont to do, when I got it from Amazon a few days ago, I just kind of broke it open somewhere in the middle and started reading. (I do plan on taking the cover to cover route at some pointâ€¦)
What I landed on was more or less a conversation between the four authors that took place about four months after 9/11. And a lot of it resonated in terms of this discussion about schools and education. For instance, that this is a time of â€œepochal changeâ€ and that â€œtraditional mind-sets and institutional priorities are under great threat, and they are fighting to preserve themselves.â€ And that â€œas the need for reflection and deeper learning grows, the pressures against that need being fulfilled grow too.â€
But there was one part that really jumped out. Senge quotes Thomas Berry who says that â€œthe primary problem of the present era is that we are â€˜in-between stories.â€™â€
The old story that bound Western culture, the story of reductionist science and redemptive religion, is breaking down. It simply no longer explains the world we are experiencing or the changes that confront us. (217)
And other myths are breaking down as well. The hero myth, that someone is going to ride in and save the day. The economic myth which focuses on short-term self-interest as a way to success. All of these stories and structures are being challenged, and, as Senge puts it, we are â€œtrapped between stories.â€
David and others have been writing about this before, and it seems we return to this conversation periodically, trying to define what this new story for education is. But itâ€™s proving difficult, and right now, it does feel like weâ€™re trapped between a story that most of us feel just isnâ€™t serving our kids very well at all and one that is yet to be created or, at minimum, has yet to meaningfully resonate and take hold.
That sentiment connected to something we talked about at the Institute for the Future workshop I wrote about earlier that, not surprisingly, raised some hackles in some parts. The discussion centered on the â€œMap of Future Forces Affecting Educationâ€ that they created with the KnowledgeWorks Foundation. One part of that map talks about how we will be â€œrescripting life,â€ how â€œthe standard narratives of adolescence, early adulthood, and post-retirement get rewritten.â€ And I think weâ€™re seeing the early stages of that right now in a lot of different, complex ways, most clearly perhaps in the post-retirement story. (What is â€œretirementâ€ anyway?)
Teaching narratives are going to have to be rescripted too, obviously. One statement at the workshop (among many) from Tom Carroll of NCTAF that really stuck with me was the idea that â€œquality teaching today is a collective effort, not an individual accomplishment.â€ Thatâ€™s an important reframing that we need to support teachers in moving through, providing examples of teachers doing that on a global scale already. As Chris pointed out in a NECC Skype chat, these days, “You’re only alone if you want to be.”
Itâ€™s no great leap to see that much of our (my?) frustration here lies in the fogginess of that new story. I think the outlines are coming more clear: it is about connections and collaborations outside the physical school and the creation of knowledge and the conversations that ensue. (The 4 Cs.) But weâ€™re still searching for the language that will really make it stick, that will allow people to really see the change and invest in the dialogue about change, or innovation, and, most importantly, that can be widely consumed in a way that will start a dialogue about reform at a national level.
I still think we need a movie, a “Sicko” for education that will articulate the problems with the old story and find language for the new story in a way that will move the mountain a bit more quickly. And there actually might be something happening in that vein. Stay tuned…
(Photo “.detroit public school book depository.” by tEdGuY49)
Tracy Rosen says
I agree, we are certainly between stories and teaching narratives are being re-scripted.
The tension that I see, that I have come into contact with, is when the teachers I work with feel that their narratives are being re-scripted for them and that they have no say in their own story.
This happens when they are told by their administration, their IT people, their consultants, that they need to change how they teach. They need to ‘use technology’. They need to differentiate in order to reach the gifted or challenged in their classes. They need to collaborate with their colleagues.
Recently I worked with a group of teachers around the notion of how to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. One teacher in particular was, er…, skeptical. In fact, I’d go so far to say that she was angry.
I spoke about how I used to meet with my students individually at least once every 2 weeks to check in. Her comment was, you see them for an hour a day in a large group and then check in once every 2 weeks – how can you say you met the needs of a student who needed a lot of support? My response was – but so were some of his other teachers, and I spoke with them to make sure everything was on track.
She had an aha moment there, about how collaboration could be a tool to help her as well as her students. At this point she has a choice – she can stay in her old script that no longer works for her and remain frustrated and angry, she can stay stuck in between teaching stories and feel frustrated and at sea, or she can re-script her story and find her bearings.
I think what we need to focus on is supporting each other as we re-write our narratives. It can be scary to be between stories.
Thanks again for a post that made me think this morning 🙂
Clarence Fisher says
I’m also believing more and more strongly these days that not only teaching, but learning “is a collective effort, not an individual accomplishment.”
Will Richardson says
@tracy…there are a large number of teachers as well that would like to “rescript” but can’t, I think. And that’s because their administration, school board, community, etc. doesn’t have that context. And the other piece of the whole story thing too is the assessment piece. Somehow, we’re going to have to align it with assessment tools that show learning, although those assessment stories need some rescripting too. ;0)
@clarence…absolutely. In fact, that’s a major part of how teaching gets recast, I think. We co-create, collaborate and learn with our students. We are really all learners, all teachers, but the “teacher”‘s role is to transfer his or her learning experience to the students, not content so much.
Tracy Rosen says
***one of the frustrating things about writing online…my original comment wouldn’t post, kept stalling. I copied it and tried again but somehow it got lost!***
Yes, I agree as well Clarence. Learning works best for me when it is collective – through conversations and experiences, relationship. I also like Will’s extension of that idea to a teacher’s relationship with his or her students as being experiential.
That is why I think it to be so essential that we support teachers in such a way as we can learn together – to make it possible to rewrite our stories. How can we create contexts where we can ask questions about how we teach/learn in my classroom, my school, my city, my province, my country, my world? That will require new stories not only for teachers but for leaders and educational organizations.
We can rewrite/tell our contexts.
How we assess within these contexts is another essential question.
(now, let’s hope this one posts… 😉 )
Damian Bariexca says
@Will – I just posted on Dean Shareski’s blog this morning about assessment being the most frustrating component of re-evaluating my teaching. While I’m trying to bring in new methods of teaching that speak to social responsibility/connection and collaboration, I feel confined by the traditional 0-100 grade point scale. I don’t know if you’d agree, but I think we get a lot of autonomy in the classroom here; unfortunately, all the innovative teaching and learning techniques still have to answer to the old assessment framework.
Unfortunately, that old assessment framework is tied to external factors like university admissions, scholarships, etc. Change in the classroom is good, but the more and more I learn, the more I’m seeing the need for widespread systemic change that doesn’t just end with the public school system. It’s an intimidating thought.
Will Richardson says
@Damien–It’s great to see someone from “my old school” getting invested in these conversations, Damien. And you’re right, Central is a place that does give quite a bit of autonomy to teachers. I’m wondering if it’s a ripe place to start a serious conversation about assessment and if or how you can find a balance between authentic assessment and traditional. Thanks for your input.
Eric MacKnight says
Thanks for another thought-provoking post. Here’s another way to describe what’s going on: we are trying to discover what a truly democratic education might look like. Unfortunately we are dragging around this 19th-century factory-model school whose purpose is to weed out the unfit and unwilling. What we ought to do, clearly, is dump the model entirely and start over, but society has invested in it so heavily that revolution seems impossible. Thus we are stuck trying to make this elitist, hierarchical, 19th-century institution do the work of education in the 21st century.
Enter angst, frustration, burn-out.
If it makes us feel any better, the eccentric polymath historian, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, maintained that it requires the continuous effort of three consecutive generations to produce any lasting historical change.
Or as Voltaire wrote in ‘Candide’, all that is very well, but we must cultivate our garden.
Marcie T. Hull says
In this movie exposing the status of current American education system I hope there are as may interviews with students as with experts and teachers. I would like to hear their side, how they are internalizing this culture of “change” and how it is playing out in their lives. Also, it would be interesting to hear from some recent post graduates of high school, especially on the topic of job turn over as well as (quality) job availability. Our decisions have consequences on their lives and I am positive their “story” is riveting. Thoughtful and interesting post Will, thanks!
Tracy Rosen says
Marcie – You reminded me about this! There is a movie already! 😉
Have you seen this?
Imagine a School…
Chris Lehmann says
There’s a wonderful quote from one of my favorite books, “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,” that says, “And when I look at a history book and think of the imaginative effort to squeeze this world between two boards and typeset, I am astonished.” I suppose, on some level, that’s my concern with the idea of the new story… the Herculean effort to take all that we need our schools to be and squeeze that into a concise new story, yee gods. No wonder we get frustrated by the effort.
I’m not saying we should try, but I also wonder if we can ever squeeze the richness of our schools and our kids into a short narrative.
Gary Stager says
You might be surprised to learn that I think Senge’s work is pretty good. My friend Tim Lucas was one of the authors of his “schools” book and was one of the best school administrators I’ve ever seen.
Here’s an example of how we are in-between stories. I believe that the dominant story regarding education for the past major period is the scarcity myth. We need to rank, sort, test and label students because we “think” that education is a scarce resource. This MAY have been true when education was restricted to 25 little desks and one big desk in a cinderblock box, but we know that even before online learning existed, the story of scarcity was wrong and destructive.
The spousal equivalent and I are traveling through Eastern Europe (I should be sleeping). Today we decided to leave Ljubljana and take the train to Zagreb, Croatia for dinner. (The pizza was wonderful in Zagreb. I recommend it.)
On the train ride back we sat with two Slovenian college students majoring in medicine. Here like in much of the world you take a 12th grade exam and the government tells you what you may study. The winners get medicine and law. The low-achievers get other professional options, like teaching (Don’t shoot the messenger. This is TRUE.)
The young man spoke English fluently and wanted to know about the American educational system. He kept asking what we taught in America (really) and had some idea that our students spend more time on projects than on “real” learning. OK, he’s an instructionist.
What really struck me was how incapable he was of imagining an educational system in which a test taken as an adolescent didn’t determine who got to enjoy an education and eventually afford to pay rent. He could not understand that education could be anything but vocational or that the government was in the best position to determine what people should study. The notion of choice, a strong liberal arts education or the idea that anyone should be able to attend college and study whatever they please was completely alien to him. The cognitive dissonance was on high.
He was also incapable of telling me how the kids who didn’t score as high as him viewed the system. I’ve worked in schools where 12 year-olds already know that their future is bleak, based on the examination system of their country. Good luck engaging them for the next 5-6 years!
Way too many Americans yearn for the type of one-test life lottery that kids in the U.K., Slovenia, Australia and New Zealand endure.
That is definitely on the wrong side of history.
BTW: Senge “borrowed” the concept of “microworlds” from Seymour Papert. I think he even attributes it somewhere.
Tracy Rosen says
Chris – that is assuming there is one narrative or one new story!
Chris Lehmann says
That’s the problem… it feels like we’re trying to find that one archetypal story. Tough to do.
Tracy Rosen says
@Chris – I don’t have that feeling at all. I hope that I did not give off the impression that I believe in the search for an archetypal story.
This era more than any other feels like one of stories and narratives, of a multiplicity of voices.
Evidence of this can be seen in the enormously high number of blogs and personal web spaces.
How we support bringing stories in education to light is of concern for me, not seeking the one true story.
Thanks for capturing the dilemma I have been experiencing for the past year or so.
I have been working with my students on blogs and wikis and podcasts, and have been fortunate enough to encourage other teachers in my building and district to do so as well. This has been been very satisfying and rewarding for me as an educator and more importantly incredibly productive for my students.
I have had the belief that this type of work would help create a new story, but have often worried that I am just grafting a new limb onto an existing tree. I wonder what it would take to plant and/or create an entirely new tree.
Ms. Whatsit says
Several months ago I read a blog post that encouraged educators to write to Michael Moore and encourage him to make a movie about public education. Was that you?
My take is that schools will only change only as much as the surrounding communities will allow them. From my perspective, many parents fear 2.0 technology in the hands of their kids, probably because kids are far more technologically astute than they are. The fear isn’t necessarily rational, but something about a collective fear seems to make it stick harder.
I would love to blog with my students, but as of today, my district won’t give me permission; and I’m not willing to risk my job to break that barrier right now.