Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hang on to change!!! Can we?

by Ed Latham

Change is hard. Even when the outlook is all positive and everyone is on board, the process of changing habits, attitudes, practice and even assessment of those changes all take time and energy. In education we have a subset of society working every day to address how the educational system is changing, and this group is often eager to increase the pace of change whenever possible. This subset includes researchers, businesses, politicians, administrators, instructors and even parents at many different levels of engagement. Although the representation present in this subset may seem quite broad, the actual percentage of the population devoted to the changing motion and flow of educational systems is quite small in relation to our overall population. For sake of argument, we can assume that much less than half of the population is involved educational change.

Society as a whole changes as well. In the case of societal change, nearly 100% of society takes part in directing the type of changes and speed of change employed. I know arguments could be made that some percentages of the population have much more power and control over any change, but even the smallest factor enters into the formula that is change in our society. From what people choose to buy or not buy to what ad campaigns a top 500 company puts out, the goals and directions of our society are influenced by a majority of our population.

Thus an increasing conflict arises. Imagine you hold two ropes in your hand. Both ropes are the same length. On one end of the rope is the educational system and all those responsible for developing and encouraging change. On the other rope is attached society's participants in the development and encouragement of societal change. Just by sheer numbers, society's rope will be pulled along at a more rapid pace than the educational system rope. In terms of direction, I know arguments could be made about efforts in opposition, but for this argument lets assume both ropes pull you in the same direction.

Given two forces pulling in the same direction, but at different speeds, there will be an eventual increase in distance between the two moving objects. This increase will result in you, still holding the ropes, turning from facing the same direction of both pulls to a position in the middle holding on to a faster moving rope as the other lags further and further behind. At some point, both ropes are taunt and your arms extended as far as possible and the constant difference in speeds of the rope starts to slowly rip you apart. You have to let go of a rope to survive. Which do you let go?

This is not some scenario from the next Saw movie series. It is happening, and has been happening for some time. Millions of dollars have gone into educational study and efforts to find and implement positive changes. That is great, but in the meantime, society has had trillions invested in changes. Simply from an economic view, the divide gets larger.

When faced with positive educational ideas such as -
Educators may become very excited about these kinds of possibilities only to find the reality of  how distant those ideas may be from the realities and pressures they experience daily deflates any of that excitement. Increased pressures on standardized testing in states create a survival mentality for many teachers such that exploration of anything "new" is for others to try, out of fear of disruption of what is known, even if what is known is struggling.

In The Tipping Point, Gladwell points to three distinct groups (connectors, mavens, salesmen) that make up only 20% of the population and drive the great social changes in our lives. A simple study of a dozen or so videos from TED will show you that we have no shortage of connectors (people who can put existing knowledge together to create wonderful systems) and mavens (people very steeped in the knowledge and rational for change to happen), but I question our salesmen.

We have, of course, have no shortage of companies trying to sell us the solution. Our list of incredibly powerful publishing companies vested in educational curriculum design number well over 20 major players. We have a number of educational groups, such as the folks at MIT, that have wonderful initiatives with so much to offer educators. We have non profit organizations, research organizations and corporations out there selling. We even have successful educators and educational leaders running around lecture circuits selling solutions.

Who is buying? In almost all cases, it is politicians at either federal, state, or local levels. How much training has your politician(s) received on best education practice for today? I am aware that many in education retire to become politicians (many simply to gain access to the incredible health care for life given out after only two terms of service), but even those coming from education have their foundation on the industrial era model of education. I am hopeful that anyone voting on educational issues frequents the many resources available that help indicate direction, methods, rational that are best for our society today. It's time to let go of one of those ropes we keep holding onto. Our successful educators that are out on circuit are busy keeping their bookings full, our non profits are busy innovating and trying to survive without the funding they could benefit from, so we are left with the corporate publishers educating our politicians on best practice. This reality scares me as an educator, a parent, and a member of society. Not everyone has the time to dig up the gems you read about in this blog. Heck, not everyone has the time to even read up on their favorite blogs. Isn't it in society's best interest to publicly share educational best practice research in mainstream media? Sure, there will be many opposition points as this organization pays for this study and that organization debunks this study or that other one, but at least the public (and our politicians) would be more aware of the options out there. If the discussions were on methods, ideas, practice possibilities and as much as possible efforts were made to minimize the tools individuals choose to utilize, then the social education level about educational possibilities would increase. This increased awareness would lead to more informed decisions when it comes time for our politicians to start buying.

We have stretched as far as could be expected in order to maintain the "system" we use for education while trying to keep up with ever increasing changes in society and our world. There will be a breaking point where our grip on one of these ropes slips. It could be argued, based on many standardized tests and reports on state progress summaries, that many are choosing to loosen our grip on where society is at and going in order to preserve the system we are so invested in. Sadly, this greatly limits our students' ability to apply their education to the society they enter.

1 comment:

  1. I am saddened by the analogy of the rope unraveling, but I will have that picture in my mind as I continue to mentor teachers and administrators in integrating technology.

    Regarding Gameification - I learned, as a concerned Mom many years ago, that buying computer games such as Reader Rabbit was an ENORMOUS help for a child struggling in elementary school. As I transitioned into homeschooling, I knew right away that games, in conjunction with more traditional methods of teaching, are the rocket fuel added to the lawnmower. If only I could travel back in time, and learn this way! Having taught in a number of local homeschool co-op classrooms, I have so enjoyed taking the struggling kids to the computer lab and watching them flourish - with GAMES. Some thought I was nuts. Some wanted to know why Mrs. Genereux's class was "playing" all the time. I understand the confusion. Ed, you and I also share a love of Minecraft as a learning tool. I am shocked at how my boys have learned to watch a YouTube video, apply the learning to their own Minecraft world, then blog about it so others can do the same, linking back to the videos they used. Final thought: in the sidebar of your Gameification link, I found the following that stopped me in my tracks "Do kids these days have short attention spans, or does the world just move too slow?".... aside from the fact that I'd like to fix a grammatical error in that sentence, LOL.... WOW, what a concept.