I grew up in a three-stop light mill town in western North Carolina. The younger among you must realize that back in the middle of the 20th century, there weren’t as many stop lights as their are today, meaning that the town was a little bit larger than three stoplights might imply. There were 16 thriving textile mills at that time (0 now) and it was the headquarters for my father’s employer, Carolina Freight Carriers Corporation (now defunct).
My father worked as an accountant and efficiency researcher for the trucking company (after five years as a school teacher). The job was about as information-based as you could get back then, though he spent a good deal of his time operating an adding machine. I remember that one of them actually had a crank.
I knew, while I grew up, that I wanted to work like him, using information, rather than like the fathers of many of my friends who worked in the mills. As it turned out, I did work in mills and manufacturing plants for some time, and it wasn’t a useless experience — but that’s another story.
My point is that when I looked at my Dad, I thought I was looking at my future — and for decades, that was true. If you wanted to see your future, you looked at your parents’ generation. What’s more, is that I believed that there was a well designed and smooth-running system in place that would make sure that at some point, at some moment, we would know all that we needed to know to be ready for that future.
Boy, did we get surprised!
The days of being able to see and touch your future are gone. Our environment is full of new and emerging technologies and the affects of new technologies, and our cultures are being reshaped by an information landscape that seems almost shapeless. ..and any system that is intended to prepare our children for their future must be designed around that technology-rich environment and information driven culture. Anything less is just preparing our children for my mills and my Dad’s adding machines.
Yesterday, I wrote my reflections of 2006, and suggested that we may be seeing the rise of a new attitude toward education, a new willingness among educators and society to re-vision what it is that we teach our students and how we teach it. If this is true, and we continue to talk about a different kind of education with different outcomes, and begin to act on these ideas, then what I see starting in 2007 is a new age in education — an education renaissance.
I’d like to spend a little more of your time exploring just a few ideas of what an education renaissance might look like.
- Students actively pursue learning — Our children’s intrinsic curiosity does not go away by middle school. Instead it is refined, because we come to understand that curiosity is a potent source of energy to be harnessed for education. Further more, we empower learners with access to content and tools to work the content in order to satisfy their curiosity and the other needs of growing children and young adults.
- Teachers become learning consultants – managers and modelers of learning — Regardless of what that introduction implies, teachers stop looking like managers and start to become partners in their classrooms. They are consultants who help their students learn to teach themselves (It’s the best thing they can learn to do today). Teachers can do this, because they too become empowered with access to content and the tools to work the content, and are connected to dynamic networks of professional collaboration. Teachers explore, experiment, and discover along with their students, even if they already know the material. They always learn something new and celebrate it with their students.
- Classrooms become learning engines — We stop relying on laws of physics — mass & momentum — to drive learning, and instead, cultivate our classrooms into learning engines. I believe that we are going to learn a lot about this as we start to pay attention to video games. We will learn what it is about highly interactive games that make children (and adults) want to learn, and begin to infect our classrooms with these same elements of need.
- Schools become museums of learning — School will cease to be citadels of learning. Instead, they will turn themselves inside-out and become an integral part of their communities. They will come to mirror their communities as the communities come to mirror them. People will see not only the raw data of the traditional assessments of their children’s most basic information skills, but also the relics that result from the real learning that happens afterward, the learning that happens as students begin to lay the tracks to their future.
This education renaissance will not occur because we decided to increase our technology budgets, or hire technology integrationists for every school, or install state-wide networks, or simply rewrite curriculum. It will happen because we have realized that a different kind of education is required to meet our children’s needs, and we are committed and courageous enough to make sure that all of the conditions are orchestrated together to see it happen.
We have no choice!
Perry, Curtis. “Adding Machine.” Curtis Perry’s Photostream. 1 Nov 2005. 16 Dec 2006 <http://flickr.com/photos/33124677@N00/58403877/>.