I’m sitting, in South Dakota, somewhere near Sioux Falls — apparently miles from the city, because this hotel seems to be the only think in sight that stands more than ten feet tall. This is the prairie — the “Gateway to the Prairie.”
I decided to take a walk after dinner (fortunately Papa John’s delivers), and out in the hotel parking lot was a chuck wagon and frountier tent. Dressed in period (1890s) clothing was the Swanson Family. An extremely knowledgeable about prairie life, wife, cowboy song singing, steer roping (well it was the plastic head of a steer), fancy shooting (gun stayed in the hoster) husband, a fiddle playing son, whip cracking younger son, with a cut as she can be, rock-throwing twin sister. They’re making a business of going around, mostly to elementary schools, to teach students about the fronteir ways. I have such adventures, on those rare ocassions, that I happen to venture out of my hotel room.
I had another adventure this morning when I discovered a new blog, Dangerously Irrelevant. The about message is a quote from Gwynne Dyer.
Our intelligence tends to produce technological and social change at a rate faster than our institutions and emotions can cope with. . . . Innovation is cumulative and the rate of change accelerates. We therefore find ourselves continually trying to accommodate new realities within inappropriate existing institutions, and trying to think about those new realities in traditional but sometimes dangerously irrelevant terms.
The author of the blog wrote, quite eloquently:
we have a few visionary principals and superintendents. Yes, we have some creative tech coordinator / CTO types that also understand the leadership aspects of their position. And yet, at ed tech conferences and in the literature, we hear about the same dozen or so school organizations time after time. Why? Because they are the ones that have leaders that “get it.” Most of the rest of our schools have innovative, technology-using educators whose potential impact runs smack into the brick wall of their administrators’ lack of knowledge and/or training.
Scott McCleod, contrary to his name, is not from Scotland. He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Policy Administration at the University of Minnesota, and Director of the Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE).
I really like McLeod’s visual of the brick wall that is resistant administrators who ignore the world outside of their school. But there are lots of brick walls, without apparent doors. The principal’s office is only one of them. Our class rooms are bricked up, and the bricks and mortar continue to be laid, thickening those walls (DOPA).
I realized, while talking with the administrators and tech staff at Lausanne Collegiate School the other night, what a ubiquitous and constraining brick wall the whole testing mentality and philosophy is. Here is a 1:1 school. Lower grades have computers in the classroom, the upper elementary have carts. Middle and High School students have laptops that they carry with them from class to class, and home. One of the tech folks described how, in the classroom, the students typical use their machines for note taking, preparing for a test. However, when they get outside the classroom, they are huddled around their laptops, talking, typing, mousing, working information, engaged, he believes, in the far deeper intellectual activities that the laptops are about — for which they were intended.
I do not blame the teachers because it’s the tests. It isn’t end of year or end of course state mandated NCLB tests. Lausianne is a private school, and they are not held to government regulation. They do not suffer from that great extortion. Yet, as a preparatory school, they are measured, mostly by AP scores. So high school teachers are still teaching to the tests. It’s a GREAT brick wall, preventing our schools from retooling.
The stakes are high. The stakes are our future. And for the first time in history, we can not describe our future. So rather than our government clamping more and more regulations on schools, we should be pouring, pouring, pouring resources into our classrooms, and freeing our professional teachers with the resources and time to reinvent their teaching and retool their classrooms into learning environment that prepare children with the learning literacies they will need for an unpredictable future.
I know that these are high flying words that don’t solve the problems. “I know they don’t solve the problems.” But I believe that we live in a time, today, where we could engage in a broad, global, professional conversation where we could solve most of those problems. We just have to remove the yoke of petty politics from our teachers and administrators’ necks, and go at it.
Dang! I should have been preparing for my work today. No problems! It’s early!
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