If nothing else, Education Nation and Waiting for Superman have spurred some renewed dialogue and passion about the issues of education. As an educator, I haven’t been thrilled with the public dialogue. It is all about what is wrong in education but doesn’t look at what is actually wrong with education. What we get from the media are the surface level problems: bad teachers, not enough money, not enough standards, not enough accountability. While these problems do exist in education, they are not THE problem with education.
There is currently a force of great mediocrity in this country…it’s called education. Eduction has become mediocre because it is easy. Maintaining the status quo and focusing on the surface level is easy to do. It makes us feel like we are taking action because we are busy. But, there is a marked difference in busyness and action. Right now education is stuck in a cycle of busyness. The surface level problems are talked to death, some decisions are made that are going to “change everything”; some new standards are implemented, more tests are issued, teachers are held more accountable. And yet, we are in the exact same boat discussing the exact same problems as Dewey, Piaget, and Papert. Why is that? Mediocrity. As a society, we refuse to look into the deeper problems in education; we refuse to ask the hard questions. Those that don’t have easy answers; those that require something of us. It is a lot easier to point the finger and say that the problem is bad teachers than to look at our family structure and ask if there is a problem with the way that we are raising kids. It is a lot easier to put standards and tests in place and force kids to memorize facts so that we can pat ourselves on the back and make ourselves feel good when they have reached the level we have deemed appropriate. If real change is what we are after in education, we are going to have to break free of mediocre. We have an obligation to break free of mediocre. Politicians aren’t going to do it. The media isn’t going to do it. They are in the business of maintaining mediocrity. If we want to desert mediocrity and do better for kids, we who see what real change is required of education must journey that road.
The media may have society talking about education and thinking about the problems of education, but they are leading people to believe that education has simple problems and simple solutions. They aren’t really requiring anything of viewers. They aren’t in the business of improving education. They are in the business of viewers. Fear and shock value sells. Tears sell. They don’t really aim to change education, they aim to change their ratings. So then, it is up to us. It is still up to us. We have to be the change we want to see. This is happening every single day in schools around the world. Teachers are doing what they know is best for kids. Not because someone told them they have to, but because they know it to be the right action for kids. This isn’t a new phenomenon. As I have stated before, I had some truly revolutionary, incredible teachers growing up. They didn’t settle for mediocrity. They didn’t settle for what they were told. There are those who are challenging the neat mediocre borders of education every day. They don’t teach to a test and focus on standards. They are heretics, in the business of kids.
We don’t need Superman to save education. We need Robin Hood.
We need educators who are willing to do what is right for kids regardless of the system they find themselves in. We need educators who will spread those transformational stories. Who will keep doing the right thing, not because they are told to, but because it is right. The beautiful thing, the incredible thing, is that we already have these Robin Hood heretic teachers who do the right thing for kids every day. We need those stories to spread. We need to begin offering those stories to the world. We need to help the public see and understand that there are difficult challenges facing kids and education. They are multifaceted and involved. But, we also have educators working on solutions. We also have incredible people challenging the status quo. Those are the stories that need to be shared.
I often make the mistake of becoming overly optimistic about the state of education. I fool myself into believing that the education problem is nearly extinct. I believe this happens because I am constantly surrounded by the Robin Hoods of education. I am immersed in the world where teachers engage in professional development willingly, who discuss the hard problems weekly, who share the fantastic ways that they are transforming education. I forget that not everyone lives in this world. I forget that most people don’t. Can we bring them into this world? We can invite parents, fellow educators, policy makers, etc. into this world. The problem? They aren’t interested in it. It feels too much like work, they have their own passions and worries to concern them. I was reading Seth Godin’s blog this morning and catching up on his posts. I came across one that is clearly directed at how to market a product better but had me thinking about how to market education better. Seth says:
People may need to lose weight but what they demand is potato chips. If you want to help people lose weight, you need to sell them something they demand, like belonging or convenience, not lecture them about what they need.
Education Nation, Oprah, and Waiting for Superman are not delivering anything that education needs. They are selling what education demands (mediocrity). We need to take a real look at what it is education needs (more Robin Hoods) and figure out how to sell society something they are demanding. Right now we are lecturing. No one is listening but us.
So my fellow Robin Hood, here is what I am suggesting, let’s figure out together what it is that society demands of education, and then let’s sell them what they need based on those demands. Maybe it is as simple as sending every single blog post about what incredible things you are doing in your classroom to your local newspaper and news station. Maybe it is as simple as changing the way you communicate with parents, maybe your students should do the communicating. What ideas do you have? What changes can we make today to desert this cycle of mediocrity?