What are WE missing?
I came across this TED talk last month. It's a story I cannot get out of my head.
"Meet Sharon Terry, a former college chaplain and stay-at-home mom who took the medical research world by storm when her two young children were diagnosed with a rare disease known as pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE). In this knockout talk, Terry explains how she and her husband became citizen scientists, working midnight shifts at the lab to find the gene behind PXE and establishing mandates that require researchers to share biological samples and work together."
Why did it take an outsider to change a profoundly flawed system within the medical research culture?
I asked friends who have worked in medical research if their community is self-aware that their cultural norms interfere with their mission. They explained that being the first to publish is inextricably linked to funding. Therefore, competition is widely accepted as normal and rarely questioned. Perhaps it is just too hard to identify system failures from the inside.
This story got me reflecting on education. What are WE missing?
Schools remain essentially the same as the world evolves in response to unprecedented change. We seem to stand still as the rest of the world whizzes by us. Why? What are WE missing?
Unlike the medical research community, education does not have the luxury of an outsider's perspective to illuminate what we cannot see ourselves.
There are NO outsiders to give us a different perspective because everyone has gone through the system. Regarding education, everyone feels particular expertise because we've all been there and done that. Our shared experience shapes a standard definition of school. It also keeps us collectively blind to system flaws.
Our shared experience drives our perception and has become a narrative deeply ingrained in our cultural DNA. It is almost impossible to imagine anything different. Even our children accept that "real" learning only happens in school.
That school narrative permeates every corner of our culture. Look for it in our media. I am amused when I watch Star Trek episodes depicting school as a place where kids sit at desks with a teacher at the front giving a lesson. At least their computers are more fantastic.
You will likely see this iconic depiction in most science fiction. Personally, I cannot recall a single exception. It's because this is the model we all recognise. We understand it. We agree to it. Sigh.
In 2010, my 8th-grade students worked on Chris Long's "Summit on Learning Space Design in PreK-12" Their mission was to build a school of the future in Teen Second Life. I was stunned when the students constructed futuristic versions of today's classrooms. Given their usual creativity, I found their lack of imagination regarding Chris's challenge truly surprising. Sigh.
This narrative persists when people outside the education profession step in to help.
Well-intentioned people from the business sector have been investing in charter schools. Most of the models I've investigated are streamlined and more rigorous versions of the classic school narrative. Sigh.
Silicon Valley is getting involved by insisting every student learn to code. Even the tech sector see change as being delivered in packages of content to be taught. Sigh.
In working with students throughout the years, the one thing that has consistently surprised me is how strongly they hold onto the old narrative. I've witnessed it in their play. I've heard it in our conversations. They dismiss the epic things they are doing outside of school as NOT being "educational". Sigh.
The students may be right.
Maybe the barrier to change is that we think of "educational" and "learning" as the same thing. Are they?
What are WE missing?
What we do have is an abundance of "big ideas" on how to modernise schools:
Integrating digital tools for learning
1 on 1 initiative
BYOD (Bring your own Device)
Modern learning environments
Modern learning practice
Global learning initiatives
Hour of Code
Everyone learning to code
The list is full of excellent ideas and is constantly expanding.
Still, I wonder if 'modernising' school will be enough.
Will any of these 'big ideas' fix what's wrong?
Some schools are challenging the status quo. They are taking risks and experimenting with different learning models. However, these schools are few and far between, and there needs to be metrics to determine their effectiveness.
Metrics? Even I can't seem to shake the narrative… Sigh.
What are WE missing?