I am in Washington, DC, at NECC09 (National Educational Computing Conference) to learn all I can about integrating technology into my teaching so that I can model that and teach it to my colleagues come September. I have already learned about a dozen or so new-to-me applications to try out during something called a ‘technology smack-down’ in the morning session of a pre-convention meeting of education bloggers. Fantastic.
In the afternoon I listened in on a session called “Where School Reform Meets Madonna:
Can public schools fundamentally reinvent themselves?” hosted by Jon Becker, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University.
In this informal session about three dozen very smart and capable people discussed how schools might change their focus, their methodologies and, this being a technology convention, their technologies to, among other things, redefine what it means to be educated, reestablish a clear purpose for public education and create a better world for students, teachers and everyone else.
At some point it occurred to me that schools are increasingly irrelevant. Now I wonder if teachers are, too.
Schools are irrelevant because knowledge is now low hanging fruit. Everyone can reach almost all of it, most of it for free. Students not only don’t need schools in order to learn, in many, if not most, cases schools actually interfere with learning.
Schools are not working because they try to control what students will learn while, at the same time, overcrowding curricula so much that we lose sight of what essential learning really is. We increasingly have to coerce students to follow our agendas instead of their own regarding their learning, and we label them as failures when they don’t respond to our manipulations.
It is not essential that students learn about Mesopotamia. There’s nothing wrong with learning about Mesopotamia if the student is interested, and that is why teachers are not irrelevant even as school, the way most of us understand the concept, increasingly is.
Here’s the difference in a nutshell: teachers can introduce students to Mesopotamia and facilitate learning about it without grades, coercion, labels or high-stakes tests, but the structure of schools and the general understandings of what school is won’t allow it.
I think today’s session asked the wrong question. It should have been, ‘Public schooling, who’s going to pull the plug?’
I’m not sure what the purpose of education is, but the purpose of school is self-preservation and we do it very, very well.
More on this subject later.
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