What if we stopped for just a moment, took a step back, and asked why? Why are we engaging in education the way we are right now? Why is it that the modern construct of education not only looks the way that it does, but why are we using it?
Maybe a better way to frame this would be, if we were to stop and start over entirely, what would that look like?
I was sitting with a group of educators recently, and I paused for a moment and looked around at who I was with. There were teachers from different districts, different grade levels, different experience levels, and different philosophies, but they are all working toward a common goal. At least I assume they are. They are trying to educate our youth. But what exactly does that mean?
I recently read a tweet by someone I can’t currently remember that said students of today are more equipped and prepared now than at any point in history to be successful in the Industrial Age. I believe that’s both true and alarming. And it means something. It means we might not be getting it right.
I return to one of my original thoughts. If we were to start over, what would it look like? We’re currently so stuck in our paradigm that I fear we can’t remove ourselves and look objectively at this question. We are so entrenched with our current infrastructure, our teaching structure, and even our institutional structure, that to really move away from what we’re currently doing might turn out to be too large a Goliath to fell.
Focusing briefly on American education, and I don’t mean to be too American-centric, but that’s the system I’m most aware of, we see how change has happened quite incrementally over the past 350 years. In the mid-1600’s, the focus of education was almost exclusively on writing, reading, and religious education. From there, we can see a history of slow, incremental changes from a system where students were largely taught by one schoolmaster, who focused on the aforementioned subjects, to the system in which we currently find ourselves immersed.
This time line accentuates the point nicely. I think it’s quite telling that there were several attempts at reform throughout our history, but I’d argue none were truly successful. Of interest is the founding of the Progressive Education Association in 1919, where a major effort was launched to create an educational environment in which students were the center of education, and by so being, should be allowed to express themselves more creatively and independently. Sounds like we’re still working on that 90 years later.
When looking down the time line, it’s readily apparent that despite all the efforts, research, hours of labor, and investment in improving our educational model, all we’ve really accomplished is the perpetuation of all that we’ve previously done. There hasn’t been a true reform. There’s been no revolution. There remains largely that which has always been.
The most difficult part of all this is determining what has value and what has been done because that’s what we’ve always done. If we really started over, what would we keep because it’s worth keeping? What would we cast away because it doesn’t have relevance in our emerging system? And most importantly, what would be our goal?
I think that’s the starting point. It all begins with a question. What’s the goal of education? I don’t ask that flippantly, but rather quite honestly. If we have any hope of making true change, this is where it starts. At the core. At the foundation. At the very center of all we do.
So I say we try it. At least in conversation. Let’s rebuild our educational system. And let’s start with a question.
What’s the goal of education today?
Thanks to CoryMarchand for the Flickr image.