Sep 062012
 

Well I am closing in on my first Friday of the school year and I survived. Ok I more than survived. I had a great week! So great I am able to sit down and peel off a new blog post on our preseason Pro D event.

Every year the Thursday before school starts; our School Board brings in some highbrow intellectual, to bestow us teachers with some tid bits of wisdom that we can take with us as we navigate another school year. It is generally a pretty good show as Keynote Speakers are always top-drawer. Some of the A lister’s who have graced the stage of our school theater, include the likes of Sir Kenneth Robinson, Alfie Kohn and Stewart Shenkman, to name a few. I have forgotten the names of the others but they were big names, I swear! So good are these speakers, I even learn a thing or two each year. (insert dumbfounded slack jawed look here)

This years Keynote was Jennifer James, a renowned anthropologist from Seattle. I obviously don’t go to Seattle enough because up until last Thursday, I had never heard of her before but I have to say she was every bit as good as Sir Ken.

The topic this year was about change and James discussed how we (society) use cultural myths and belief systems to make sense of the world around us. Up until recently our world has changed slowly enough that we could seamlessly adapt these belief systems and myths to accommodate and make sense of changes in our world. Today however, technology is changing things so fast, that we can no longer adapt our beliefs and myths quickly enough. As a result, we are seeing conflict between what we believed to be true and the realities of the modern world.

James went on to imply that the education system is based on an outdated belief system, which is simply not adaptable to the modern world or the modern student. She went on in a round about way to say that, we (teachers) need to change if we hope to continue making positive change in young peoples lives. As much as I hate to admit it, she made a ton of sense but then again I am easily convinced. I have been lead down the garden path before because of a good keynote, as my brief association with AMWAY would suggest… but I like to think I am much older and wiser now. 😉

but James is kinda right.

In the past 20 years, technology has kicked the stuffing out of our education system and left those of us who work as educators bruised and bewildered. As a result, we have come to a crossroads in the world of education and quite frankly, no one seems really know which way to turn. The only thing that is certain, there is no going back.

The problem with moving ahead however, is that we need to let go of the belief system and cultural myths which built the education system we have. The way we teach our children is so culturally engrained that any change, regardless of how small, is going to cause some level of duress for someone whether it be teachers, parents or students.

A perfect example is changing the school calendar. The one we currently use is based on the needs of an agrarian society. In North America, the majority of us are no longer living on farms or harvesting crops but suggest changing the school calendar and all hell breaks loose. Education is a part of culture and cannot be seen as simply a service that can be adapted on a whim as the demand changes.

When we take a look at resistance to change in education, the assumption is that the resistance resides solely within the ranks of the educators themselves but that is a simplistic view.

Yes teachers frequently view the discussion around change in education as an affront to what it is they do. Some have been in the game for as many as 40 years and much of the talk around how the education system needs to change, is downright disrespectful to good people who have have spent a career doing a great job. To tell them that what it is they are doing is wrong, invalidates an entire career. To many it seems like the powers that be, simply want out with the old and in with the new. You can’t blame teachers for getting edgy at the mention of spring thaw and south bound ice flows.

Parents are a funny group when it comes to change. Here you have a situation where the majority of people’s concept of what education is like, is their own school career. Using that frame of reference, they view their own children’s educational experience. Obviously parents want what is best for their kids and that includes the latest and greatest in technology and pedagogy. If for some reason they feel their child isn’t getting it, there is hell to pay.

The irony in all this is that, while teachers are on the line for being current and school districts are expected to provide the latest and greatest in facilities and technologies, when things go bad the most common laments among parents go right back to their own experience in school. “School isn’t what it use to be!” “Teachers aren’t as good as they once were!” “We need to get back to basics and start teaching what really matters!”

Talk to a parent and you quickly realize that parents are as stuck in the past as teachers.

For the kids, well… They are the pawns in all this, trapped between what was and what could be but kids are resistant to change as well. Many kids are still anchored securely in the old ways of teaching and learning, just like their teachers and parents. Every year I will have kids who just want to know “What will I be tested on?” and “What do I need to do to get an A?” Ask a kid to think for themselves and they are lost. “Uh… What is the answer?” They are as stuck in the teacher centered model as the rest of us.

Of the three groups, the students are undoubtedly the most receptive to change, then I would say teachers are next and surprisingly perhaps… parents are the least receptive to change in school system. The reason for this is that parents are frozen in the past. Change that they cannot gauge or measure against their own experience is frightening. It is a classic case of, better the devil you know then the devil you don’t.

The other reason I say parents are the most resistant to change is that, it always comes back to the ultimate question. “What is my child’s mark?” Parents want to know how their child is doing and their concept of success is based on old school measures of performance. Anecdotal descriptions of what their child can or cannot do are meaningless to many. “That is great! I am so glad my kids is outstanding at working collaboratively but what is his mark?” In the end, teachers give parents what they want. Marks based solely on content knowledge is a thing of the past but who are we to argue with a parent.

Yes James is right, we need change and resistance is futile but there is more than enough resistance to go around but it essentially comes down to this. As long as our education system is a slave to the culturally engrained belief that education is all about the mark, we will never be able to build a new belief system for our Education System.