There’s been a lot of talk lately about the education issue here in the states, lots of mostly white middle-aged “experts” meeting and pontificating about change at venues like NBC’s “Education Nation” and the New York Times “Schools for Tomorrow” conference. At the latter, they actually had two panels about students without inviting…wait for it…any students to participate. And Ed Nation felt more like a roll call for the biggest spenders and businesses with a financial stake in education moving forward.
You can’t help but walk away thinking that we’re going to be hellbent on keeping the system manageable for the adults regardless of what my be best for the kids. I know I’ve offered up this Clay Shirky quote before, but let’s not forget that “Institutions will always try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution,” and that is certainly the case right now in education. John Merrow wrote a summary piece about Ed Nation that can’t escape that “let’s do what we’ve been doing better” lens, but one of his commentors, Ken Bernstein, gets it right:
Our schools are now, and have for more than a century, largely been structured for the convenience of the adults involved with them than for the real benefit and learning of the students whom somehow we seem to want to treat as interchangeable parts.
Amen. It’s offensive the way we talk about kids as if they are numbers to be managed and improved, that success has less to do with the types of human beings they become than the scores they “achieve,” and that their desire and ability to continue to learn really doesn’t factor that much into the equation. The current conversation is steeped in tweaking the system, not fundamentally changing it, even though fundamentally changing it would serve our children and, frankly, our nation. I totally understand the magnitude of the articulated “problem” which is to provide every child with an adequate education. But the real problem is that the system is not working for our kids or for us.
Let’s be honest…we are not the most intellectually curious society these days. We routinely ignore science, we’re addicted to Jersey Shore and American Idol, and we disregard our own health to a frightening degree. We don’t know much about the way the world works, and worse, we have no real curiosity about it anyway. We lack energy and inspiration. We act is if we are helpless to do anything to solve our problems or change our world, and our leaders show us no different.
Is it a stretch to suggest that much of what we’re struggling with right now is because of the education system we’ve built and the emphasis we’ve placed on the test? We’ve been taught to hate ambiguity, that only one answer exists, that if we have enough money, we can game the test. We’ve been taught that learning ends once the test is mastered, that our passions don’t matter, and that numbers rather than goods tell our educational story.
Yet, this is what we perpetuate because for the adults, it’s the easiest path. It’s easier to define success in numbers, easier to manage kids as groups, and easier to tweak than to reimagine, none of which serves our students as well as they deserve.
Kids are not interchangeable parts. If we sincerely valued what was best for them, we’d start talking about change in meaningful ways, not just in ways that support the status quo.