A Short Personal History in Education

Over the course of my career, I have maintained an obsessive focus on teaching and learning. My office at home is filled with books and magazines in which I have taken copious notes. I maintain notebooks (both pencil and paper notebooks and multiple digital notebooks) with thoughts and about how “something” can become a lesson or how “something” brings insight into how we learn. As an educational technologist, I have basked in the hardware and software tools that have been pushed to the market by publishers and manufacturers. I have adopted those tools to my practice and I have adapted my practices to the tools. These tools have given me access to information and experiences for my students that I could only dream of when I started my journey into education. Because of the influences of digital networked information technologies, the turn of the century was an amazingly energizing time to be an educator, and the effects are continuing.

The first decades of the 21st century have been an amazingly dejecting time to be an educator. I graduated from high school in 1983; the same year that A Nation at Risk was published. While education has always been a service that has been scrutinized by the public, the scrutiny has been particularly sharp since 1983 and it has become political on a national level in a way that it was not during my grandfather’s brief career in education in the late 1960’s. Much has been written about the dismal state of education, and much (but far less) has been written in response and to explain how the dismal state is the product of bad advice from policy makers, misguided attempt to improve education, and false assumptions about how education works. Because most of the discussion about education is political, the participants are not compelled to provide evidence, and so it has been difficult for me to observe this debate as one who thinks and understands as a scientist. For me and my contemporaries, education has been subject to a non-stop parade of curriculum and instruction reforms each intended to “fix” education, and—despite the recent rhetoric surrounding data-driven decision making—it is not informed by evidence.

Largely because of my background in science, I have always been (and continue to be) a skeptic. Whenever anything new comes along (which is frequently), I look at it carefully and seek evidence that any and all claims about it are true. I seek my own evidence and test and try those that seem aligned with the experiences I seek to give my students. I adopt the bricoleur approach that was first suggested by Claude Levi-Strauss and popularized for educators by Seymour Papert. I play with new ideas in the classroom to see what happens when students and I interact with the idea. Some results are predicted, some are unpredictable. All practices and ideas are further scrutinized or discarded.