I feel like I should do some fun tool blogging or great classroom blogging or something before heading down the depressing road of writing more about change in schools, but I guess I can’t help myself. Especially after taking pictures like the one at right at a school I visited a couple of weeks ago and after reading quotes like this one:
“Unless we change direction, the combined impact of these proposals will do for public schooling what market reform has done for housing, health care and the economy: produce fabulous profits for a few and unequal access and outcomes for the many.”
That’s Stan Karp of the New Jersey Education Law Center lamenting the cuts and “reforms” here in my great state and elsewhere in a blog post in the Washington Post. (If you want to see a video of Karp giving basically the same riff on the topic, check out his YouTube video and there is a transcript here.) It’s a really powerful exploration of the current conversation around change and the many problems surrounding it.
The critical point to me, however, is this: all of this orchestrated bashing of teachers and schools is opening the door for folks outside of education to come in and “save the day” Superman style, a fact that, as Karp suggests, could undermine the whole democratic ideal that we built schools upon. You can catch whiffs of it everywhere, when people say that “competition” is what will save education, to the “approved providers” the Jeb Bush and his Excellence for Education crew are promoting in their reforms to the growing number of personalized and customized tutoring programs that are cropping up all over the place. It may not be on a lot of folks’ radar at the moment, but rest assured, we’re going to see more and more corporate attempts to not just provide content (as they’ve done forever with textbooks) but, increasingly, to provide instruction as well. And, as Karp suggests in the quote above, that reality will surely make worse the already growing educational divide for our kids.
There is no question that businesses will play a part in the “reforms” or “transforms” that we so often talk about in this community. And there is also no question that we need to promote a different vision for what teaching and learning look like. But there is a big difference between the vision we have for students having equitable, thoughtful access to technology and teachers as opposed to the vision where only a few do. I’ll once again quote Allan Collins and Richard Halverson:
For education to embrace both equity and economic development, we believe that our leaders will have to stretch the traditional practices to embrace the capacity of new information technologies. This will require schools to forfeit some control over the learning processes, but will once again put the latest tools for improving learning in the hands of public institutions (as opposed to the hands of families and learners who can afford access.) (145)
As schools, we are going to have to “forfeit some control,” as we well should as the learning opportunities outside the classroom become more ubiquitous and effective. But we have to make sure that those opportunities are equitable and open as much as we can. That’s the real urgency of the debate right now, how do we use these new (and old) technologies to lift everyone up instead of just a few.
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