Unless you are relatively new to the educational reform discussion, it is likely that you are familiar with Sir Ken Robinson’s RSA Animate video entitled, Changing Education Paradigms. The video addresses the “manufacturing model” of schooling and its inherent problems – perhaps none more appalling than the system’s inability to address individual needs of learners. In fact, the structures of the “manufacturing model” are so deeply embedded that it begs the question of whether we need educational reform, or educational revolution.
Those of you who are regular readers know that I truly believe that effective teaching is one of the most challenging professions in the world – now more than ever. Consider for a moment what we ask of our teachers. In addition to addressing academics (for which a standardized test has inexcusably been deemed an acceptable assessment of student performance and teacher quality), we expect teachers to meet the social and emotional needs of their students. They act as advocates, counselors, mediators, health assistants, referees and in many cases, parents in absentia. I am not arguing that this shouldn’t be the case. In fact, I think we all understand that these roles are inextricably connected…and necessary. Unmet needs in one area will inevitably lead to problems in another area. So, I would argue, the problem doesn’t lie in the level of expectations for teachers, but within the system in which we ask them to meet those expectations.
We want our kids to be recognized as unique individuals with different needs, interests and talents. We want them to be appropriately challenged, have freedom to create, opportunities to explore, and time to pursue their passions. Conscientious educators are scrambling to provide learning environments in which this is possible, but in many instances, it still has to get done within the structure of the all too familiar “manufacturing model” of education. Bell schedules, highly qualified requirements, furniture arrangements, computer lab accessibility (or lack thereof), transportation issues, scheduling, test preparation, “seat-time” requirements, funding and standardized testing all present hurdles to a truly student-centered, individualized education. In public education, it is becoming increasingly more challenging to see the trees through the forest.
Charter schools are popping up everywhere in Arizona, most designed to address a particular niche. Charters often subscribe to, and benefit from, the “field of dreams” philosophy – design a school to address the needs of a specific type of learner, and they will come. Want a school that emphasizes a traditional curriculum? We have it. Want a school that places value on physical activity? We have it. Want a school where kids have three hours of homework every night? We have it.
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with giving people options, but what happens to those who don’t realistically have a choice? What about the kids who don’t possess the means, transportation, initiative, or capable advocate? Don’t they deserve an education that is tailored to their interests and passions? In order to meet the individual needs of ALL of our students, we don’t need to change the system — we need a new one. An educational model that destroys all remnants of school as a factory, removing obstacles to innovation, and allowing teachers to do their jobs.
In the meantime, educators will continue to keep one eye on the forest, with the other intently focused on the trees — doing their best to individualize in a system with a plethora of distractions and obstacles. Keep up the good fight!