Steve Hargadon held an interesting interview with Linda Darling-Hammond last week that covered, for the most part, the ideas in her new book “The Flat World and Education” as well as some of her earlier works like “The Right to Learn.” While I was hoping to hear her go a bit more into depth about the role of technology in the reform or transformation of schools, and to also be more specific as to how to get to reforms she says we need, she did articulate a number of compelling ideas around why change is so slow and why it’s so difficult to move the needle on schools here in the US. I’ve snipped three fairly short segments from the full interview that I want to touch on in three separate posts. (Full recording here.)

The first discusses the idea that reforms are hampered by the lack of teachers who can teach in progressive ways, and that replication of successful school models is extremely difficult due to diverse circumstances (some have leadership, money, infrastructure, others don’t) and a political reality that forces us to change course every few years while other countries are going through a steady process of “continual improvement.” She says it’s hard to build a “system of good schools” here. Take a listen:

Here is one quote that’s worth mulling over.

“Progressive educational philosophies, that is approaches that are child-centered, that are really focused on empowering forms of learning that allow people to inquire for themselves and pursue knowledge in self-initiated ways as well as in other ways, those kinds of reforms demand infinitely skilled teachers, and our system has never been organized to produce infinitely skilled teachers in sufficient qualities to fuel those reforms over the long haul.”

The other day I Tweeted the question “What % of teacher ed programs prepare teachers NOT to be the focal point of the classroom?” and the responses were telling. Most said 5-10%, and my sense is that’s pretty accurate. No question, we’re not producing “infinitely skilled teachers” who are also “infinitely skilled learners” as well, and that’s exactly what we need to make these progressive philosophies happen in the classroom. It’s not rocket science; if we want students who “pursue knowledge in self-directed ways” and flourish in an inquiry driven environment, we have to prepare teachers to do that for themselves. And we’re not. We prepare teachers to teach, not to learn.

But I also found it striking that she connected our difficulty in sustaining change with what she termed our “disposable culture” here in the US. We try one reform and dispose of it, then we try another and dispose of that one, and then we try yet another. And I can’t help ask, whose fault is that? Throughout our education, we’re give out disposable assignments, have kids work on disposable projects that lead to disposable tests. I mean really, how much of what we actually have our kids do in school is really worth hanging onto in a “change the world” sense? I don’t mean to saddle the current system with causing everything that ails our society, but you have to admit, we own some of that…we reap what we sow.

Over the next couple of days, I’m going to put some thoughts together on two of the other topics she brings up, professional development and assessment. Regardless the lack of a discussion around technology and learning networks in much of her writing and discussions, there is no question that Darling-Hammond has one of the clearest voices in articulating the issues we’re facing in education today. Definitely worth listening to.