Is 21st century education obsolete?

Gary GruberEducational LeadershipIs 21st century education obsolete?

Is 21st century education obsolete?

Can you imagine using a cell phone that is 10 years old?  I have seen a few but not many.  Driving a 10-year- old car has become more possible since that is merely a 2004 model and cars haven’t radically changed all that much in terms of performance, especially as they enable you to get from one place to another.  And, if one is careful about maintenance (and sustainability) any good car can get 200,000 miles.  However, hybrids and other alternative fuel cars have come on the market within the past decade for the most part.  The world of consumption designs built-in obsolescence to make us believe we need the newer, better, much improved model and a lot of that is nothing more, or less, than slick marketing gimmicks.

I have several pairs of shoes and lots of clothes older than 10 years that still have a lot of wear left in them and I don’t care that much about style.  Tools in the barn?  They are pretty much the same ones as I have had for more than 10 years and still performing well.  And me?  Well, I am about to start my 78th year and I don’t think I am quite ready to be put into the obsolete pasture just yet.  That will come soon enough, thank you very much.
But education, being defined as 21st century, while well intentioned, and calling for reform, has yet to show widespread signs of significant change although we are past a decade into the 21st century.  There are certainly bright spots here and there and signs of hope in many places where people are investing in a different kind of delivery and outcome.  But we’re still bogged down by standardized test scores, obsolete measurement and assessments that do very little for kids, bureaucratic systems that thrive on top-down, heavy-handed management, and too much one size fits all mentality.  Kids are still primarily grouped by ages.  Ken Robinson refers to that as the only thing they really have in common is their date of manufacture.  His talk on changing the paradigm is a must see and hear.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U
We need another name and another concept for education that is truly reformed, truly catholic (little C, please!) and truly evangelical.  I remember that phrase from a long time ago, uttered by James I. McCord in a theological debate about reforming religion, still a big issue in my mind.  My point is that the terms could also be applied to education.  The operative word may, in fact, be truly.  Instead of tweaking the edges, adding a new course, hiring someone in charge of creative learning, etc. we need a radical re-design of the entire enterprise.  There is not much short of a revolution that will accomplish what I see is needed.  Evolution will take too long and leave too many children behind.
So, you ask, what is needed?  What can you do without “throwing out the baby with the bath water?”  For starters, ask yourself what you would do if you were starting over, what you might do if you were starting a “school” from scratch, a clean, blank slate and you can create whatever you believe will make a difference in the lives of kids, regardless of the age group you want to serve?  First, why would you do it? What would you do?  How would you do it?  Who would you like to join you in the effort?  And, finally where would you want to do that?  OK, have you gotten some answers to those questions?  Really?  Are you sure?  Maybe it’s not even a “school” as such places have been defined in the past.
Now, move to what the obstacles are that are preventing you from accomplishing reforming, reshaping and redesigning where you are.  How would you go about removing those obstacles?  Maybe it is not re-anything as that might be regression.  How about the concept of a new school within a school, not for everyone, but for those willing to take an intelligent risk on a new design for teaching and learning, emphasis on learning, not teaching?  How about that for starters?  Now come up with your own and go for it.  Need help?  Ask for it.

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