Those who watch my Twitter stream closely may understand that I cycle through two very different approaches to the night - either I stay awake "working" through the dark hours, fighting my way, or I hide as I did as kid, still mostly awake, just waiting for dawn when sleep can come...
Anyway, that's not the point...
But awake one late night I watched The Story of Louis Pasteur on Turner Classic Movies. And in that movie I realized something - that it took Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister forty years to convince the world's doctors to wash their hands. This seems - to us, as it did to Pasteur and Lister - a tiny thing with huge results, patients stopped dying at a 50% rate from infections, but it was massive because it threatened the entire self-image of the doctors. In order for the doctors to make this change - in order for them to stop killing half their patients - they had to admit that they were not quite the "healers" they imagined themselves to be. And the doctors of the 19th Century couldn't quite get there...
|Joseph Lister explains the whole germ-infection thing...|
And the result is... we are "killing" kids - both figuratively and literally.
Educators get caught in an awful "Anti-Virtuous" Cycle. So many did well in traditional schools for very traditional reasons. They were born to wealth and privilege, or they were born to educationally successful families. And/or, they simply are the kind of student "school" - that culture of compliance and passivity - enables.
Then, because "school" worked for them, they stayed in school - many teachers have never been anywhere else since heading off to nursery school/preschool: Primary, Secondary, University, Graduate School, Working in School, it is all they know, and they only know the schools they have succeeded in.
Thus, they mimic the teachers who honored them, and then... surprise, surprise... the kids who succeed in their classrooms, in their school buildings, are the kids most like them. This is powerful reinforcement, it ensures these educators that their life's successes are not the accidents of privilege but are because of their inherent superiority.
|"It worked for me..."|
That's a big deal...
And it is a horribly destructive deal, just as the self-image of those ancient doctors was so destructive.
So we need to decide... who is more important in education? The kids or the recalcitrant teachers?
Because if we are going to move from replicators to design thinkers, we must move our focus from the needs of those who work in schools to the needs of those for whom schools exist. And beyond that, if we are to succeed where we have not, we must begin to see and understand that "user experience" of school from the perspective of those students for whom it is not working.
That's "design think." When Ford Motor Company decided to become truly competitive in the United States they really began to look at the choices made by all those who did not buy their cars. They focused on their "users," their customers, and they tossed out virtually every old management structure. Compare a 1995 Escort and a 2012 Focus, and you'll see the difference. They knew they had to win back all those who had walked away from their products... and we, in education, must win back all of those who - quite logically - walk away from our "product," literally and figuratively, every day. Just as General Motors spent years in denial, pretending they built cars people wanted, our schools live in denial, claiming that "there's something wrong" with all those kids who won't bother to pick up the passive parcels of knowledge we dump on their mental doorstep. Because we are so often part of that one third that waited for those parcels back in our day, we never stop to imagine why anyone wouldn't grab it.
So, here's the beginning... I am not going to pick on teachers or the teaching profession because I believe it to be the most important job in the world. But I am going to say that teachers must learn every day, from brain research, from observation, from great practitioners. And that learning must change their practice every day, otherwise, they are simply not demonstrating their learning.
And I will say that teacher excuses, "I don't have the time," "I'm busy," "I don't get paid enough for this," "We tried this before and it didn't work," can only be used by teachers who consistently accept those excuses from their students.
great teachers do not wait to do the right things
I understand - even if I don't really - that it is very hard to be told that you've been doing a "not very good" job. I don't really understand because people have told me that pretty much all my life. So, its ok... my goal is to keep changing every day so I do it better. But if you've never heard that before, I'm going to imagine that it's devastating. Maybe almost as devastating as it is to be student in a school which pays no attention to how you learn and what you need.
"Scientists are now discovering massive structural changes in the adolescent brain through extensive functional MRI scans, changes that apparently shake the internal mechanisms of a teenage brain to its roots. If this is true – and all the signs suggest that it is – these must be seen as essential evolutionary adaptations that ensure the survival of the human race by forcing teenagers to break away from their parents and teachers. “Get off my back,” adolescents down the ages have pleaded. “Leave me alone. Give me space.” Adolescence is about growing up and no longer thinking like a child. It’s about ceasing to be a clone. Sitting still (if only for part of the time!) may be an appropriate learning environment for the pre-pubescent child, but it is largely inappropriate for adolescents, whose biological pre-dispositions, we now know, urge them to find out things for themselves.
"And here is the crux of the present advanced world’s dilemma. Little more than 100 years ago, American psychologists started to define this rebelliousness of adolescence as a disease, an aberration that made teenagers a threat to themselves. Psychologists and educational bureaucrats alike concluded that something had to be done to prevent teenagers from threatening the carefully controlled world that teachers had created.
"Educational administrators saw only one answer to this problem: put adolescents into school for longer and longer, and give them so much studying to do that they wouldn’t have the time or energy to question what an adult society was actually doing to them.
"We’re still doing this today. Policymakers, with little background in the neurological processes, expected that, by the age of 22 or 23, the next generation of young people would have been “broken in” to the currently defined way of doing things. Their thinking resembled that of horse breeders who, until very recently, thought it necessary to break in a young foal after it had run relatively wild for two years. Now horse breeders carefully study the temperament of every foal, and then define unique training programs that build upon what each can do naturally. Human adolescents crave and deserve no less. Deep down, there stirs within them the urge to climb the mountains of the mind and see what possibilities lie before them; they are innately “big picture” thinkers and frequently upset older generations by questioning the compromised lives so many of us lead. That is their nature; it is what their brains have evolved to do. It is the apparently unreasonable dreams of adolescence that, years later, drive the progress of what we are proud to call our civilization. It has always been so." - Education Canada
- Ira Socol