I’m poking around in “Presence” by Peter Senge (and others), a book about “profound change in people, organizations, and society.” (I can hear the chorus of boos already…why another non-education book to figure out education?) And when I say “poking,” I mean it. As I’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 point…)
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 “epochal change” and that “traditional mind-sets and institutional priorities are under great threat, and they are fighting to preserve themselves.” And that “as the need for reflection and deeper learning grows, the pressures against that need being fulfilled grow too.”
But there was one part that really jumped out. Senge quotes Thomas Berry who says that “the primary problem of the present era is that we are ‘in-between stories.’”
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 “trapped between stories.”
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 it’s proving difficult, and right now, it does feel like we’re trapped between a story that most of us feel just isn’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 “Map of Future Forces Affecting Education” that they created with the KnowledgeWorks Foundation. One part of that map talks about how we will be “rescripting life,” how “the standard narratives of adolescence, early adulthood, and post-retirement get rewritten.” And I think we’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 “retirement” 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 “quality teaching today is a collective effort, not an individual accomplishment.” That’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.”
It’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 we’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…
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