From the author: I’ve embarked on a second Write to the Bone intellectual, social, and emotional adventure; this time to explore the promise of innovation within the context of education. We face systemic challenges so profound in scope that whole lifetimes are spent just trying to understand the issues. I no longer have a lifetime. What time I do have will be spent where I live – observing and writing in the margins.
W.K. Kellogg said, “Education is the best way for truly improving one generation over another.” Millions of dollars, and as many hours, are spent each year hashing out policies intended to accomplish that very thing. Mr. Kellogg personally spent a fortune initiating a trust and foundation with the welfare of children, and promise of education, at heart.
This simple framework, that we can improve whole generations through education, resonates with many. Any yet here we are, producing a next generation that will, by all accounts, not fair as well as the generation before. Our response has been to point the finger at educators, increase the emphasis on math and science, ramp up testing, push harder to meet the challenges of global competition. But we’ve missed some very obvious factors. Global competition is much less about math and science scores than it is about pay scale. Our business leaders didn’t ship millions of jobs off shore because of the incredible intellects in China, Singapore, Japan, or Korea. We didn’t open plants in Mexico because of the number of PhD’s per capita.
An emphasis on math and science scores, our fervor for testing, are signs that the national dialogue seeks to improve our competitive advantage, as if we can become the innovation engine for the world, thinking up all those great ideas, securing intellectual property rights, and having others build those products. It’s a narrow vision at best and destructive. To accomplish this, we are literally withdrawing funds from the margins of our educational systems, further isolating the disenfranchised. It’s as if half the nation no longer matters, does not fit the national vision, is beyond consideration.
Not everyone is on board of course. Millions of bright and passionate individuals work every day to make education work for everyone. Still, more are left behind every year. Persons of color, blighted urban neighborhoods, those with disabilities, those who simply cannot relate, and millions of rural residents and the working poor are most often in this number. And among them are gifted athletes, musicians, dancers, writers, and sincerely dedicated and intelligences that will work their hearts out.
Anyone who reflects on our dilemma for a period of time will arrive at the same conclusion. It’s not just our educational systems that must change. We need life-long learning, new pathways into sustaining careers and in short, a new economy.
This series explores the exciting technologies, new practices, and forms of innovation percolating up from the margins. The findings are intelligent, inspirational, scalable and replicable. Traditional models continue to fail driving the need for new and disruptive innovations.
We are training children for a future that very few of us can even imagine, let alone generate a curriculum for. Children born at the time of this writing will graduate from universities and enter the job market twenty years hence, or later. Who can say what pressures they will face or what will be required of them? For this reason alone, we need to discover a better way.
Allan Collins and Richard Halverson say, in their book Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, “… there are deep incompatibilities between the practices of schools and the imperatives of the new technologies.” Upon close inspection, incompatibilities surface everywhere, not just at the intersection of education and technology. However long it takes, however misguided and naïve our attempts, we must draft a new framework for learning. The framework will not be confined to the classroom or campus. It will advance lifelong learning, create thousands of new gateways for careers, and be rooted in enthusiasm.
No one is alone in this work. In their book Disrupting Class: How disruptive innovation will change the way the world learns, Clayton Christensen and his colleagues Curtis Johnson and Michael Horn address many of the commonly stated reasons for why our educational institutions chronically underperform. One by one they offer compelling arguments and research to challenge the assumptions of too little funding, lack of technology, poor parenting, as well as assertions that our teaching model is broken, that unions are the problem, and that our performance measures are flawed. All of these arguments, especially in combination, can influence educational proficiency. But the real reason they say, after researching test scores across the globe and across time, is lack of incentive. This is not about financial incentive, most often not the primary reason for performance (see: Dan Ariely: What makes us feel good about our work?). Incentive, in this case, equates with relevancy. Our institutions are unable to present a compelling vision. Baked into our system is awareness that society itself is satisfied with marginalizing half the population.
Can we really expect to transform education at the margins? Yes. If we don’t expect it, work at it, commit to making it happen, who will?
Mahatma Ghandi is quoted as saying, “My commitment is to the truth, not to consistency.” The materials in this series are often posted when found, sometimes in haste. They are later reorganized for meaning; edited for clarity, grammar, and so on. Approached in that spirit, you will certainly find inspiration and new ideas in what you are about to encounter.