Thinking and writing about education, synthesizing personal experiences as a student and as a teacher with the many brilliant insights I have read or heard about from others, has led me to an inescapable conclusion. We are doing something terribly important very badly.
The challenge is to find way to educate kids that is both a significant improvement on the status quo and at the same time practical. I believe that we need to rethink on a fundamental level the purposes of education, and reconcile our practices with those goals.
This is a daunting task. Consider the entrenched bureaucracies of schools, the political gamesmanship that steers educational policy, the vast sums of money involved and the powerful actors that will step up to protect their financial interests even at the expense of the people most directly affected by school policies – the children.
But the situation is not all dire. The daunting aspect is the institutional entropy, if not active resistance to any meaningful reform. The aspect that is encouraging is that nearly everyone agrees that some changes need to happen. There are brilliant ideas being generated every day by classroom teachers, college professors, researchers and policymakers, as well as by parents and the students themselves. To be sure, not everyone is on the same page, but this is not an entirely bad thing. It is possible to make meaningful progress on a small scale – as an individual, within one’s own classroom, with one new lesson that breaks the mold, by changing priorities within your own family, by generating discussion within your own community.
My own process for tackling this problem includes not just drawing from the vast resources developed by others over the years, but also a considerable amount of introspection and reflection on two decades of working in schools. Over the course of that time, my basic assumptions as well as some of the most important things I “knew” about education have changed. In some cases this was because of new information I acquired through learning what worked in the classroom, reading, and sharing with other educators. In some cases it was because real world experience overpowered some part of the conventional wisdom about schooling, and allowed human nature to show that it will always defeat institutional constraints.
I began as a teacher the way many educators do, with a fairly insightful understanding of how I learn, and a few good ideas about how to teach kids whose learning style matched my own. Over the years, experience brought both wisdom and humility. Everyone is different, and no one person will ever be able to create a system that is effective in teaching everyone. This has to be a collaborative process.
I am nearing completion of writing a book that offers one way to improve the quality of education. It proposes a different approach to teaching United States History, a course that I taught for over 12 years at four different schools and with which I am the most familiar among the classes I am certified to teach. But the core concept of the book is transferable to other subjects as well.
The personal challenge for me is to share my ideas with people who are receptive to them, and share my enthusiasm for reform with people who are willing to stand up and demand change. I hope to provide some wisdom and some guidance from the perspective of one who has lived and worked with these issues for years, but I know that I can’t provide all the energy that is needed.
Ultimately, this is a shared responsibility. I don’t have all the answers, but fortunately the answers are within the collective wisdom of everyone who cares and is willing to speak up. The future belongs to those who create it.
As of today, I will be posting on this blog every week on Mondays, but no longer on Thursdays. As much as I have enjoyed writing these essays, and as much as I hope you have found them thought-provoking, entertaining, and perhaps even useful, there are only so many hours in every week, and I need to spend a few more of them on other projects – including one I have deferred far too many times for too many good reasons – finishing the book mentioned above.