This morning I sit in a library that I used to frequent 41 years ago. The books may have changed, the shelves may be rearranged, but the the place looks much the same. Inside this room is a circle of educators examining how the 1970 model still works today. I feel like I’m at a living museum. Education is a living museum. These are very good people perpetuating an anachronism. How can we change the paradigm to reflect the post-information/post-industrial age in which we live? How do we prepare today’s learners for careers that don’t even exist today? What are the skill sets that we should be emphasizing? Does teaching global studies in an age of Wikipedia and Twitter still make sense? I don’t mean to pick on global studies either. You substitute another subject and ask yourself the same question.
Post information age education
Today I spent an enjoyable day at a neighboring school district listening to a staff development specialist speak to a distinguished group of area school administrators that included mostly building principals, curriculum directors and district superintendents. The focus of the day was on preparing these educational leaders to assess their instructional staffs in the most effective manner and at the same time comply with the new New York State APPR standards for teacher & administrator evaluation that is now mandated by New York State law. There was only one other technology director in this august group of administrators. I’m also a recent graduate of St. Bonaventure University’s Educational Leadership program and earlier this week I spent a day with St. Bonaventure faculty and some of my former classmates reviewing for our upcoming school certification assessments which are now also required by law for credentialing.
Much of what I’m going to write here comes from a great deal of thinking and some conversations with other career educators over the past six months or so. In short I can tell you that what I observed today and over that time span is that our current model is badly broken and that the much heralded Common Core and the assessment model it brings is doomed to failure and ironically will “kill” schools and students in the process. It likely will lead to higher drop out rates and a work force less prepared for the rigors of the 21st century. We live in a much different age. Forty years ago when I graduated from Pioneer Central School information was relatively inaccessible. Teachers and schools could claim to be the purveyors and protectors of knowledge. Today as I sat in the Pioneer Central School library surrounded by books and a few “newspaper racks” I remembered how I loved to have a library pass so I could come here to read and learn. Today, school libraries are an anachronism and schools themselves are anachronistic. Today’s students have a mother-lode knowledge at their fingertips thanks to ubiquitous internet connections. These students need help deciphering, decoding and critically thinking about that knowledge. The teacher can point children to those knowledge sources but we are no longer in control of the dissemination. To the extent that we or our school districts are foolish enough to believe that we are in control of that information we do irreparable damage to our communities and our students.
We need a new model and not one crafted at state houses by legislators influenced by PAC money paid by testing company lobbyists. We need another American Revolution and this among serious educators, students and their parents who demand the end to NCLB and Race to the Top. The Common Core amounts to a “Common Bore.” It is a travesty perpetuated by testing companies and those who carry water for them. Enlightened 21st century education will be best effected by school districts, parents, students and teachers bold enough to look for a new model of education and one that respects that we are post information age and post industrial age and that our current metaphors for education are badly broken.
We need the Three R’s, reading, writing and ‘rithmetic and after that we need a curriculum that acknowledges that we don’t have all the answers and that access to the knowledge centers of the world can be found on smart phones, iPads and PCs connected to the world’s greatest library. It is ironic too that I have greater access to educational resources when connected to Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, or Aunt Mary’s Diner’s wireless network which is unfiltered and friendly to learners. How’s that for irony?