Disrupting Schools in the Midst of a Revolution

Answer Tips enabled

It seems like everything, including education, is changing. We’re in the middle of a revolution and may not even know it. Change is difficult for many teachers, parents, administrators and students that want to continue the status quo. Let me define what I mean as status quo for education:

A top-down system where teachers teach the set agenda with standards, tests, and text books. Each teacher is assigned a classroom where they usually close the door and teach their class in isolation. Schools start around 8am and end around 3pm. It is rare that the schools are used before or after schools now because funding is limited. Students sit in rows, answer questions that are asked of them by the teacher, write papers that only the teacher reads, and attend a school that may not have all the classes they need to meet their requirements for graduation.

Does this sound like your school? Are you okay with this system?

We are in a digital revolution that is impacting businesses, government, families, schools, everything. I finished reading the Laws of Disruption by Larry Downes. From the front flap:
"While digital life races ahead, the rest of our life, from law to business, struggles to keep up. Business strategies, lawyers, judges, regulators, and consumers have all been left behind, scratching their heads, frantically trying to figure out what they can and can’t do. Some want to bring innovation to a standstill (or at least to slow it down) through lawsuits and regulation so they can catch their breath. Others forge madly ahead, legal consequences be damned."

Downes mentions how everything is changing. Schools are the slowest to change and, in some cases, are going backwards. Today's schools were designed around the factory model. Schools were setup for students to follow not lead. There is a reason why schools were set up in this model. Corporations like Ford and McDonalds needed workers to follow directions and not question authority. This worked for almost one hundred years. This model is not working today. Our students are not able to compete globally. Drop-out rates are growing exponentially. Teachers are leaving the profession in droves. Schools are closing. Classroom sizes are growing to the point that teachers are more like babysitters instead of facilitators of learning.

What we need are a new type of student: one that is a creative, critical thinker and problem solver. This student needs to be a leader instead of a follower.

How do we prepare leaders when our system is not setup for that? How early do we teach leadership skills?

Think about Kindergarten where students learn how to sit quietly at their desks, follow each other in a straight line, and to draw within the lines. It seems like we are taking all the fun out of learning. We’re taking the creativity out of school right from the beginning. I believe that young students learn alot more from play than teaching rote skills. How do we expect our students to become excited about school if they cannot talk, work together, be creative, or use the tools they use everyday: computers, cell phones, and iPods?

Schools of the future will be different because our students will demand it. Watch the news and you witness schools closing all over the place. Why? Because we are set up as a supply and demand system where parents look for alternatives to meet their students’ needs. For those families that cannot afford anything but the public school assigned to them, students give up or score poorly on tests. The best teachers tend to be in the better schools. I don't want to say there aren't any good teachers in our poor schools because I know that isn't true. I've worked with urban schools in the San Francisco Bay Area with some of the most fantastic teachers I've ever me. That was before No Child Left Behind. That was before the big push on testing and accountability. Even our best teachers are limited in how they teach and reach their diverse group of learners each day. Amazing teachers that created engaging and motivating projects are now following prescriptive scripts that expect each student to learn the same thing as everyone else in the class.

I’m a public school advocate but see the writing on the wall. Our teachers need help. Our kids need help. Things have to change soon. The drop out rate is growing and we cannot afford to lose one more child. We may not even realize how big this change is until it hits us that there are no schools available in this or that neighborhood anymore.

I believe all kids are gifted but we don’t give many of them a chance to prove their gifts and strengths. It’s time to shake up the system and really change it - radically so all students can learn. It’s time for all of us to not just blame the school, the teachers, or the students anymore. The whole system is broken and all of us need to work together to make it work. I challenge you to make a difference at your local school.

• Find out what is happening at your school.
• Ask to see the curriculum and if all students learning goals are met.
• Attend school board meetings and ask questions.
• Encourage students to be vocal about what they need.
• Look for alternative learning opportunities such as online courses.
• See if there are ways for community members to volunteer as a mentor or tutor for a child at-risk.
• Consider creating a community learning center out of your school or library where all learners have opportunities to take classes, receive tutoring, help others, and more.

Look for more articles that provide more details for families to make a difference with schools in your own community.


Contributing writer, Barbara Bray, Educational Consultant, President/Owner of My eCoach, writes a regular column on professional development for OnCUE and is active on social media sharing her views about the future of education. You can reach Barbara by email at barbara@my-ecoach.com or Twitter: bbray.

Cross-posted on THE ENVIRONMENTALIST and adapted from Barbara's blog: Rethinking Learning 
first posted 12/17/09 here.