Do you feel it?
The future is coming.
There it is hovering just over the horizon.
You squint your eyes trying to get a quick peak before it arrives. But that rarely works. By the time it’s here, it’s never quite in the shape you expected.
Yet we always stop and listen to the prophets and prognosticators. Those google eyed figures, wearing trench coats and sandwich boards standing proudly on milk crates and cracking open their mouths to vociferously voice their “visions.”
They smell like B.O. There are insects in their hair. And their mouths spray halitosis as much as haloes.
Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t trust them to park our cars, to give us directions, to do just about anything. But when it comes to “The Future” somehow we swallow their swill with conviction.
Through sheer force of charisma they convince us that their predictions will come to pass and if we’re smart we’ll invest in their brand of patented polished snake oil.
So we’ll be ready.
Just once I wish people would heed the skepticisms of the doubting Cassandras. But so it goes.
This week it’s “Schools of the Future.”
Everywhere you look it seems you’ll find some slickly produced inducement to “Rethink schools.” Some admonition to completely change public schools. Some empty promise in naked technology to save us all.
They’ll tell you that our public schools haven’t changed in a century. They’re set up for the agricultural past. Or schools are great for creating assembly line workers for the industrial revolution, but times have changed. And education needs to change with them.
This sales pitch about outmoded schools sounds really nice.
It makes us feel good.
Yes, I KNEW there was something wrong with my public school. That explains my own failures. I mean, I went through 12 plus years of public schooling and look at me! I’m not one of the handful of billionaires who own the world. It MUST have been the school’s fault!
Forget economic inequality, money in politics or any of that progressive crap! I could be sitting on top of the world with my boot firmly planted on the neck of everyone else – if only the public school had taught me right.
But this is the comforting lie many folks tell themselves and one of the major reasons corporate school reformers get away with raiding public education. Their lies flatter white people’s vanity.
So billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs’ bought a four-network propaganda hour telling us to “rethink” high school while Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ began her “Rethink Schools” publicity tour days later.
As if the thought never occurred to anyone else.
Rethink schools? What do you think classroom teachers do? We rethink every lesson every day!
It’s standard practice. We call it reflection. Some of us even keep reflection journals where we jot down things that worked and things that didn’t.
Haven’t these privileged fools ever logged on to the blogosphere? The Internet is fit to bursting with teacher blogs overflowing with ideas about how to change things up. This very blog has been pushing authentic reform after authentic reform – but the powers that be – people like DeVos and her billionaire philanthrocapitalist peers – aren’t listening.
You want to rethink schools? How about sitting down and shutting up?
Classroom teachers have much more experience than you do. We’re there every single day engaged in the actual practice of teaching children. You learn something about it by doing it for at least 180 days a year, for decades. And that’s not even counting the years of college preparation before even entering the classroom, the pedagogy, debate, and hard won wisdom of generations of teachers before us.
Meanwhile, all you have is a bank account.
You’ve hardly stepped foot in a public school to do more than spit on it. Nor did you likely experience it as a student or parent of students who go there.
You know nothing. And that’s no sin in itself.
Many people are ignorant of a great many things. I, for one, am completely ignorant of how to fly an airplane. That’s why I’d never dream of busting open the cockpit and preceding to tell the captain how to land the plane!
But you are not humble enough to admit your own ignorance. You think your money gives you the ability to do anything. After all, you DESERVE all those billions. It’s not an accident of birth or circumstances. You’re just that good, that special, that much better than the rest of us.
And what kind of brilliance do we get from these pampered prophets?
“…I’m issuing a bold challenge this week: it’s time to rethink school.
For far too many kids, this year’s first day back to school looks and feels a lot like last year’s first day back to school. And the year before that. And the generation before that. And the generation before that!
That means your parent’s parent’s parents!
Most students are starting a new school year that is all too familiar. Desks lined up in rows. Their teacher standing in front of the room, framed by a blackboard. They dive into a curriculum written for the “average” student. They follow the same schedule, the same routine—just waiting to be saved by the bell.”
All that money and the best you can come up with are that we should rearrange the desks!?
It just goes to show that you don’t know what goes on in real public schools.
My middle school classroom doesn’t have desks. We have tables that seat four.
Yes, those seats typically begin the day with students facing the teacher and the board. But you could say the same of seats at any auditorium since Plato’s day. I don’t hear anyone talking about rethinking that!
In any case, seats are mobile. I direct my students to move their seats all around the room. Just yesterday we had them in a circle. The day before, they were in small groups. And many days my students aren’t even in their seats – they’re wandering around the room doing some sort of task or project.
None of this is that revolutionary. Most middle school teachers do the same thing. You have to. Kids that age don’t have the attention span to sit in their seats in the same position for 40 plus minutes at a time.
Seats are often more stationary at the high school level, and they’re probably even less fixed at the elementary.
You would know this if you ever talked to a public school teacher. But, no. You know best because of your net worth.
Let me tell you something. Public schools today are much different than they were in the past.
For example, the way we teach special needs children is light years away from what it was just a few decades ago. We used to send these children to specialized facilities or classrooms in the basement well away from other students. Now, they’re mainstreamed and their educations are dramatically tailored to meet each student’s individual needs.
Schools used to just be about the three R’s – reading, writing and ‘rtithmetic. Today at wealthier districts, students have a wide range of courses to choose from. They have arts, music, foreign languages, vo-tech, extra-curriculars, computer science, robotics, drama, almost anything you can think of! I wish this were true at all schools, but that’s a funding issue, not a lack of innovation.
Many schools are less segregated today than they were before Brown v. Board. The courts have let us down in supporting this Supreme Court decision, instead permitting an awful lot of regression in some districts. But even at the most resegregated schools, they are rarely100% one race or another. We should do something to increase integration, but don’t tell me we haven’t made progress.
Let’s get one thing straight.
People like DeVos and Jobs only care about “rethinking” schools because they have a product to sell.
They’re promoting a problem so they can sell us the solution. They want us to buy more charter and voucher schools, more edutech competency based education B.S., more testing, more publisher and computer boondoggles.
You want real innovative reforms in our public schools?
Here’s what you do.
First step, give the reigns to public school teachers. We’ll tell you what needs to be done.
Here’s a short list:
-Stop privatizing and start supporting public schools.
–Integrate schools again – both racially and economically – no more schools for rich white kids and schools for poor black kids.
–Get rid of high stakes testing – use funding allocation, spending decisions, principal classroom observations and student projects for accountability purposes, not scores on a limited and biased multiple choice test.
–Repeal Common Core and let teachers write their own academic standards instead of being beholden to goals written by corporations to sell their own products and tests.
-Make a national commitment to reducing class size across the board, hire more teachers, increase their autonomy and salary.
–Examine very closely every use of technology in the classroom to make sure student data isn’t being stolen by corporations, devices aren’t used for test prep or babysitting, and beware Trojan horse edutech applications like so-called personalized learning and competency based education.
Those are the kinds of reforms that would actually help improve our public schools.
But you can only learn that if you have the humility to listen to the experts – classroom teachers.
And people like DeVos and Jobs have proven they don’t have an ounce of humility.
Perhaps we don’t need to rethink schools. We just need to rethink our standards of expertise.