Maybe Georgia and the Nation Need To “Get Schooled” about Education Reform?

It’s no coincidence about the title of this blog post.    Over the past several weeks, I have been reading, and participating, in the discussion around an Atlanta Journal-Constitution Blog titled, “Get Schooled.”  And after letting my blood pressure drop a bit, I decided to reflect and author this post.  

I had to let my blood pressure drop because I have never been so aggressively attacked personally, as I quickly found that there is almost no moderation conducted on the blog.   The tone is hostile, and most of the readers are teachers or former teachers who are regrettably “prisoners of the system.”  If you have a contrarian point of view, you are ridiculed, labeled as a Republican (why the labels?), or someone who immediately wants to let for-profit organizations into the public schools!   By the way, is that really the coming of the apocalypse?  I’d say the textbook publishers already see it as “for-profit” – more like “for LOTS OF PROFIT.”

The blog’s author, Maureen Downey, may be a nice person.  I do not know her and would not make any personal attacks on her character.   But what I can comment on is the fact that her views are 100% reflective of the “digital immigrant” mentality that tries to protect the status quo.  She has an obvious agenda against charter schools (not that all charter schools are good, but new models need to be given support nonetheless), and one of recent posts was titled, “Should Every Georgia Student Take An Online Course?  Why?”  Ms Downey is a “laggard,” meaning, she wants to see data on outcomes before she thinks our students should use it.  She is obviously unwilling or unmoved by the digital revolution upon us.   She unfortunately continues to spread distortions and misinformation to her readers, and always looks for ways to poke holes in the logic behind anything that even remotely looks like it threatens our local public schools. I am sure that there are “Maureen Downeys” in every state in our country.

We need new ideas to reform our education system, and if public policy can be used to help advance this effort, then it must be used.   Politics will regrettably always be involved with public education, because it depends to a large degree on taxpayer dollars.   However, we can, and must run our education system differently.

I’d like to again point my readers to a free manifesto written by my highly respected colleague, Seth Godin.   It’s called Stop Stealing Dreams, and it is a must-read.   Seth has such a candid, direct writing style, and is not afraid to acknowledge the “white elephant” in the room.  It doesn’t matter if he hasn’t supported his assertions with pages of footnotes citing research studies.  He is much more “right” than “wrong,” and what he says rings true.  Here are couple of my favorite excerpts:

 

Democracy cannot flourish where the chief influences in selecting subject matter of instruction are utilitarian ends narrowly conceived for the masses, and for the higher education of the few, the traditions of a specialized cultivated class.  The notion that the “essentials” of elementary education are the R’s mechanically treated, is based upon ignorance of the essentials needed for realization of democratic ideals.

The universal truth is beyond question – the only people who excel are those who have decided to do so. Great doctors or speakers or skiers or writers or musicians are great because somewhere along the way, they made the choice.

As John Stuart Mill said, “It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.  And, if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their own side of the question.”

It’s easier to play it safe.   Why risk blowing up the educational system, why not just add a bit to it?  Why risk the education of our kids merely because the economy has changed?  That whisper in your ear, that hesitation about taking dramatic action – that’s precisely why we still have the system we do.  That’s how we get stuck with the status quo.

There are so many salient points in Seth’s manifesto.  He walks you through history – how we built the mass-standardization approach to education, and why that same model may ultimately lead to the continued “dumbing down” of our society.

Before we immediately reject reforms because we think they will reduce funding to local schools, for example, why not ask the question, “Are we better with what we have, or would trying a new approach yield more favorable results?  

I think it’s time that my state “gets schooled” and embrace the winds of change, not reject them.  The time to act is NOW, for the sake of our children.

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