@jonbecker @bengrey @shareski @willrich45 @mcleod @crafty184
Thursday evening, in an Elluminate session hosted by Will Richardson (that I with I had been able to attend but only later viewed the archive), Jon Becker discussed a blog post he wrote earlier this year calling into question the truth behind the claims many people in the edublogosphere (or edutwittosphere) have been making about the need for school change. If you did not attend the session or listen to the recorded archive I highly recommend it. Its OK, I'll wait....
Jon frames his discussion very well on his blog post, which is largely repeated in the first few minutes of Will's interview/discussion with him:
Those with whom I network for learning purposes through Twitter, blogs, Nings, etc. are largely members of an amorphous educational technology community. That community is fond of throwing around terms like “change” and “reform” connected to schools or education and most often the “change” or “reform” is largely related to advances in technology. The gist of the argument is that technology has changed the world we live in but not schools so schools need to catch up (or something to that effect). Schools are becoming “dangerously irrelevant,” right Scott?
I have to admit that I have spent the better part of the past four years arguing for school change and have used many of the arguments he "throws under the bus." Working in an alternative school and seeing a disproportionate number of really bright students who were there because they were bored was "proof" for me that something about school had to change (now I am under the bus with Ben Grey).
Working as an art teacher for nine years and having to find a new job every couple years because my program was cut due to declining enrollment caused by school choice (Online Schools, Charter Schools, Post Secondary Enrollment Options, etc.) which was evidence (note, I did not use the word "Proof" here) for me that there is truth in the Disrupting Class argument (though, Disrupting Class is not really an argument for school change but rather an explanation for what is happening in our k-12 schools). The Disrupting Class argument does address the type of student Jon mentions in his post, the one who school works well for, because every time a program is cut opportunities for those and all students are lost. [See my previous posts: Budget Cuts, Disruptive Innovation, and a Solution for Public Schools, Animated Explanation of Disruptive Innovation in Education, or The Case for Charters, Part 4: Disruptive Innovation: Why Traditional Ed Is Ill-Suited For Change]
Now, this discussion, as do many discussions about school reform or school change, led to the question, "What are schools for?" When asked this question, in my mind, Dr. Becker was less than articulate and rather indecisive. He, in a round-a-bout way says he thinks the purpose for schooling is to prepare students for participation in a "deliberate democracy." But, as those in the chat box were quick to bring up, we are now talking about schooling in a global world and not all students live in democratic societies.
Essentially, Dr. Becker poises himself and Dr. McLeod on classic polar opposites in a debate that has been around for as long as our nation has existed. Since the conception of public schooling in the U.S. (and for much of the world) we have had this Jeffersonian-Hamiltonian conflict in our collective answer to the "What are schools are for?" question. Thomas Jefferson believed that schools should prepare students to be informed citizens who could function in a democracy and Alexander Hamilton believed schools should prepare citizens to be productive workers. So, in the evolution of our schools they have always been burdened by this debate.
Another reason I have heard a lot, especially from teachers and echoed in a recent post by Will Richardson, is schools need to teach students how to learn or that they need to develop students into "life-long learners." This argument/philosophy I find extremely shallow and largely flawed. It seems to me that life forms, or at least sentient life forms, are life-long learners as a matter of their nature. We are all learning beings, it is part of being alive. Schools don't teach students how to learn. Students come to school in kindergarten (or even preschool) having spent 4-6 years learning and they would continue to learn with or without school. We also are curious by nature. If anything, schools teach students to temper their curiosity by inadvertently punishing them for it. It is often said that it is an academic virtue to be inquisitive and to think critically and that schools should try to cultivate this ability in students and I wholeheartedly agree with that claim but, in my experience it seems like whenever a teacher does a good job of this the institution of schooling throws them "under the bus."
So, what is the purpose of school? If you are involved in school reform or school change at any level, be it as a reformer or a critic, you have to first have a clear articulate answer to this question. I believe schools exist to prepare all students for the world they will live in. This is a simple but loaded answer to this question and is broad enough to include both Jefferson and Hamilton. But, I am curious how you answer this question. What is the purpose of school? Having a clear and concise answer to this question ought to be a prerequisite to engaging in debate or discussion on matters of school change. For that Jon, I am pulling you under the bus with me. For now its a good place to be. Lots of good company down here.