06 January 2012

Changing Gears 2012: start to dream again

(1) ending required sameness     (2) rejecting the flipped classroom     (3) re-thinking rigor     (4) its not about 1:1      (6) learning to be a society (again)     (7) re-thinking what "literature" means       (8) maths are creative, maths are not arithmetic     (9) changing rooms     (10) undoing academic time      (11) social networks beyond Zuckerbergism     (12) knowing less about students, seeing more     (13) why we fight

Sometimes, we need to fantasize about what school is, and what we want it to be

Dream, my friend Adam made clear to me this week, is the wrong word. What we need to do is to begin to fantasize. Dreaming is a sleeping thing, and though many of us (most of us?) have slept through various parts of our education, I'm hoping for something a bit more "conscious."

I want you, us, to fantasize about school. Fantasy is not just conscious, it is dangerous, passionate, engaging, embodied, and incredibly powerful.

And all of this is the opposite of the quantitative, evidence-based, best practices crap which has led us, these past fifteen years, into the worst period of educational policies the English-speaking world has known - and, yes - it has known some pretty terrible educational policies. The problem with "the science" (as most horrifically constructed in the most destructive book of the 21st Century, Scientific Research in Education) is that it locks us into the systems and questions of the past. "Evidence-based" means it already exists. So does "best practices." "Quantitative" means it has been compared to something already existing, though rarely has there been any actual analysis of that which has existed. And "quantitative" also assumes - in the most absurd kind of faith - that we are capable of averaging humans. You understand, Diane Ravitch + Michelle Rhee + Me/3 = the average person talking about education.

In the world of human affairs we rarely do things because of science anyway, rather, we create sciences to justify ourselves. “...consider : is its science, sir, that motivates us when we transport English rule of law to India or Ireland? When good British churchmen leave hearth and home for missionary hardship in Africa, is it science that bears them away? Sir it is not. It is Christian duty. It is the obligation to bring our light and benefices to benighted man. That motivates us, even as it motivates Treves toward Merrick, sir, to bring salvation where none is. Gordon was a Christian, sir, and died at Khartoum for it. Not for science, sir.” (Pomerance 1978 p. 21)  So let us admit to faith and art and move forward toward the schools we want, not the schools Bill Gates and Walmart want.

Fantasize. Yes, step five of Changing Gears in 2012 is to imagine, imagine freely, imagine wildly, imagine sensually... to think of what seems completely out of reach, of what seems impossible, of what seems unachievable.

"Some men see things as they are and say 'Why'?
I dream things that never were and say 'Why Not"?" 

So start to think beyond everything you know. Start looking at all the ways, all the places, people learn. And let your fantasies run wild. The school below gave this some serious thought...
But what if we went even further...

Adam and I have started to develop this theory, that the way to end the colonialism, the social reproduction, which dominates our schools and limits the future of our societies, is to allow our students to fantasize. They are already rejecting what they are inheriting, Occupy Wall Street indicates that, as do surveys on gay marriage law and - even in the US - socialism. So, we can continue the indoctrination method (which America's right hates but deeply embraces, and America's left enjoys but opposes), trying to browbeat our youth into becoming like us, or we can love and trust our children and give them the tools to imagine something better than what we have to offer.

I'll suggest that the former path is not likely to work. If those under 25 now reject our societal dreams - and these are kids who've grown up mostly in "good times," imagine their younger siblings, who've seen their own opportunities stripped away from them by adults more concerned with filling three car garages and being terrified that two guys in love might get married. And if the former isn't going to work, why not embrace the latter?

Lord of the Flies, what if these boys could have thought
beyond the societal models
they had been given?
The latter, after all, the idea of allowing our students to imagine, to fantasize about, and eventually to build something less tethered to the persistent mistakes of the past, is a powerful way for ourselves to re-imagine education - to see education as a solution to a broken society rather than as a way to prepare children to become types of adults we are.

To quote a Virginia sixth grader, "People keep making the same mistakes over and over again, and we have to stop." 

When that sixth grader said that, I asked him what he, what "they," needed to do to begin developing a better world? Really, I should have asked that of myself and of my colleagues, "What do I, we, need to do in order to let that child, his classmates and his generation, stop, and try something new?"

What must we do to stop "tinkering" around the edges of a fundamentally flawed system, and imagine an educational "structure" that is radically transformed?

Movement with prior plan of direction:
Walk Out Walk On
Instead of setting the bar, NCLB-like, based on what exists now, might we not set the bar where we want it to be?

Would it look like the phenomenally successful Parkway Program of Philadelphia's 1960s-1970s, or like my "3I Program" - also amazingly successful of the New Rochelle of the 1970s-1980s?
"The whole scene oozed with activity and life and while there was no apparent order to it all, a sense of purpose seemed evident... I asked [the head teacher] if he would identify the kinds of things that were going on about us. His response - quick and unqualified - was to the effect that he had no idea what the activities consisted of, that it was furthermore not his business to know, and that the participants had defined the content, value, and details of their pursuits and were probably doing whatever it was they felt it important to do." - Greenberg and Roush. Philadelphia  Or like Summerhill? Or like any other model?


No, we do not know what it might look like, because that will be constantly evolving, if we are doing our job and empowering our kids. A middle school principal wrote to me today, "
Our furniture is arrive this Tuesday and although we planned out were it would go, Sarah and I are realizing that because the media center is a transformational learning space that the plan of where the furniture will go will change again, thus it’s transformational…" We do not know, it will change, things are not fixed, plans are not fixed. 

Listen, I do not want the future which replicates this present. More importantly, our children do not deserve a future which replicates this present. And the only way to avoid that replication is to free our children to conceive of something different.

Please. Fantasize, and help your students do the same. Give them the chance to seek a newer world.

- Ira Socol
learning to be a society (again)

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