(Offered for discussion, not as complete thinking…)
A few months from now, I’ll be marking my 10 year anniversary as a blogger. It’s been an amazing ride, and it’s been a surprising one in more than a couple of ways. Obviously, it’s changed my life, changed who I am, and changed my view of the world. For all of that I’m thankful. But it’s also been surprising in that so little has really changed in that time when it comes to schools and education. Sure, we have many more voices, and the community of connected teachers and learners is growing every day. There are lots more computers in classrooms, and we’re carrying around a heck of lot more in our pockets that can lead us to learning. But our collective ability to articulate a different vision for what to do with all of that stuff has still not manifested itself in anything cohesive, anything that we can point to that’s moved the needle on the conversation very much. Case in point, I gave a keynote to an audience of about 900 educators recently and only a handful (as in count ‘em on my fingers and toes) raised their hands when I asked if they’d participated in social spaces online aside from Facebook. Learning in networks was not in their frame. And at most of my presentations, I still get this “I never knew” reaction from most of the people who sit in. Seriously, I’m thinking 90% of educators still don’t know that the Web is turning into a profoundly important place for learning and creating together, and even fewer students in this country are doing anything that resembles networked learning in their schools. Push back if you like, but I’m not sensing anywhere near 600,000 educators (10%) participating in these spaces. Not even close.
In these 10 years at least, the basic “story” of education hasn’t changed. Schools are where we go to get educated. With a very few well documented exceptions, it’s a planned, linear, for the most part standardized process, one that allows everyone to recognize what being “educated” means at the end of the day. We all learn basically the same stuff on the same day in the same way, take the same tests, get the same diploma. It’s that narrative most of us share, at least those of us who didn’t drop out or choose homeschooling as our option. It’s one that Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee and most everyone else who is trying to “reform” school still buys into. It is the best and easiest, most familiar story to tell, and it’s a deep part of our culture as Americans.
But it is a story that is slowly but surely going to go away. I really believe that. We’re seeing the outlines of a compelling “new” story to tell about learning and education, and it’s this: there no longer is one story, one narrative around how to become educated. Not to say there haven’t always been options to schools. But now there are a growing number of stories, many unbundled paths to getting an education, and the future will be filled with many others as learning opportunities become more ubiquitous, more personalized, more varied, and more accessible through the Web. For now at least, this new story doesn’t exclude schools as an important part of the path, but it demands different things from them. They will be nodes in a network of many different learning environments, and their charge will be to help students be, as Charles Leadbetter says, “investors in their own learning,” able to flourish by pulling in information and teachers instead of having those things pushed upon them as is currently the case. Teachers in schools will be master learners first, content experts second, connecting students to knowledge and mentors outside of the physical space, helping students acquire the skills and literacies to learn deeply on their own. Their focus will be to help students become great at creating and sharing and connecting around new knowledge as opposed to being great at consuming the old. As Stephen Downes suggests, schools will build the capacity in all students to create an education for themselves, not wait for it to be delivered to them. And all of this will, in the words of Allan Collins and Richard Halverson, “make us rethink the dominant role of K-12 schools in education.”
My sense of it is that not many people at the head of the “reform” movement really understand this yet. And it will take a whole heap of humility for schools to get this right. We can see this as a threat or as an opportunity. In essence, we need to be teaching ourselves out of our current jobs, empowering and enabling our students to do the difficult and joyful work of learning on their own, supporting and nurturing their individual and collective efforts as we learn with them. On many levels, it’s more important, more difficult work than what we currently do. But if we are to keep schools relevant in our kids’ lives as places where they are cared for and appreciated and loved, something I desperately want to be the case, we’ll need to get comfortable with this new role. And we’ll need to advocate for these shifts in even more compelling ways.
So, assuming this comes close to the “new” narrative of education, how do we do that? Tomorrow, I’ll share one idea that we as a community might work together on.
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