I was reading my Google Reader feeds yesterday and came across one by Rodd Lucier at The Clever Sheep. His thought highlighted a constant refrain that seems to permeate education, “When have we arrived?”
Rodd’s assessment about the effects of the change factor in education is spot-on. The situation is more acute than in many other areas of society, caused by education’s lagging behind the wave of change that is constantly sweeping over us. I am not sure if Rodd was musing or lamenting, but the “end points” he mentioned are an underlying problem, which impedes any progress in educational change. The idea of an “end point” stifles possibility by suggesting that a perfect destination is quantifiable. The real question is, “Is there really ever a destination to be arrived at?” Politicians and society in general want schools to “arrive” so they can be comfortable in sending their children inside those walls. This perpetuates the idea of a final destination where we can all sit back, breathe a sigh of relief, and proclaim, “We have arrived.
This reminded me of a blog entry I read in January 2008 at Moving at the Speed of Creativity, written by Wesley Fryer. Wesley briefly follows the change path backward from NCLB to Dewey in pointing out that voices have always existed calling attention to the need for the education environment to be a fluid proposition. He goes on to paraphrase Alfie Kohn:
“we need to be focused on EXCELLENCE and inquiry, problem solving and process, much more than our classrooms today largely driven by the demands of educational constituents focused on simplistic and often meaningless outcomes like subjective grades and norm-referenced test scores.”
I would go a step further than Rodd and say, leaders in education need to be in a constant state of evaluation as they move forward. All educators need to be constantly evaluating practice and engaging in collaborative learning opportunities with their peers. Ours is not an adventure with a destination, it is an ever-changing horizon with new opportunities over each hill. The standardized testing Kohn decries, governmental requirements to meet arbitrarily arrived at “standards,” and a “foolish consistency” evidenced by adherence to tradition are all impediments to educational change.
As the early explorers stood on the deck, they imagined the shores they would reach. However, the shore was not their destination, it was a starting point for further exploration and they contemplated that process long before arrival on the shore. I do not think they considered whether the shore was “good enough.” They did not see a destination; instead, they saw the horizon.
Though it is debated whether Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortez burned his ships upon landing on the shores of Mexico, the idea that he did suggests a powerful metaphor for education. Consider the math: Rodd’s challenge, “How will you decide which distant horizons are most worthy of exploration?” increased by Wesley’s warning about “more of the same” multiplied by the idea of “burning the ships” so as not to retreat when the horizon looks daunting. This could be the formula for real, sustainable, substantive change in education.
Rethink school. Practice the art of learning. Facilitate the learning space with a map of ever-growing best practices. I suggest we need not be concerned about arrival; instead, we need to be ever vigilant to the beauty and adventure on the horizon and intentionally architect learning experiences that challenge our students, and ourselves as teachers.