Where Are Schools Going?

My career in education has been filled with many changes that are very superficial. My colleagues and I do things differently now than I did when I started, but many of those changes have not necessarily changed the experience of being a student. We are teaching the same way we did in the 1980’s (which is the way my teachers taught me), but our tools are flashier and more expensive, we use many more acronyms, and administer many more tests. The problem is that method of teaching produced an undergraduate student who assumed there were answers to my questions about learning and teaching. My own education was disrupted when I realized becoming educated is not about knowing how to teach, but about discovering and creating what specific students need when they need it. 

Our society depends on efficient and effective schools for everyone, and this is perhaps truer as I write in the early months of the third decade of the twenty first century than ever before. The problem is that we cannot reach consensus on the nature of the schools we need. We disagree about fundamental questions about what we should teach, how we should teach, or how we should determine if learning has occurred. The landscape of education is a chaotic mash-up of ideas, proposals, standards, models, methods, and metaphors; and it shows no sign of dissipating. 

This chaotic mash-up is not a sustainable situation; society needs to make some decisions about its schools and focus on providing them. It seems we have two choices. We either create schools in the image of those in which past students studied, or we can change the nature of what and how we teach. 

Grounding schools in the past seems a terrible idea. We know for sure that the world has changed. Human history has been divided into “ages.” These imprecise periods are labeled to capture the dominant activity that happened during that time. (It is more accurate, to state they are labeled according to the biased and prejudiced opinions of those who labeled them and had their labels accepted by those who wrote school curriculum and other influential documents.) We do know that life in the “agrarian age” was different from life in the early “industrial age,” which was different from the “information age.” In each we designed schools to reflect the realities of the dominant activities in society. If we teach students for a world that does not exist, then we are wasting our time and money and their potential.  

I am beginning to use the term “Innovation Age School” to describe education in the middle of the 21st century. Innovation, we know, is “doing something differently.” I am convinced we are doing things differently… we are doing everything differently… how we earn and spend money… how we engage with others in our community… how we interact with close friends and family… the list could continue.