This week we came across four different content pieces that coalesced in a single thought in our head: children have changed history, and they must be the ones who lead change in education.
The first piece is the best example of the power of a child to change history since a fictional young boy shouted "but the Emperor has nothing at all on." Letters of Note featured a letter from 11yo Grace Bedell to presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln, in which she urged, "let your whiskers grow...you would look a great deal better for your face is so thin. All the ladies like whiskers and they would tease their husbands to vote for you and then you would be President." Lincoln responded coolly, but heeded young Grace's advice, grew one of the most famous beards in history, was elected president, and 150 years later, politicians still try to claim his mantle.
The second is from Doug Johnson, Director of Media and Technology for the Mankato (MN) Public Schools, author of "The Blue Skunk Blog," and one of the brightest minds writing about what education could be. In "Dear Students, Please Led a Thoughtful Revolution," he urges students to "foment a quiet revolution"- one in which students assume much more control over their learning. Johnson concludes "I am less and less convinced that adults will be able to fundamentally change how school is done. I think it will be up to you..." (Make sure also to read this follow-on comment from librarian Shannon Miller of the Van Meter, Iowa schools, where the quiet revolution is taking hold).
The third post is one of the most wonderful ones I've read since we began this journey. In "The Jury Is In," Shelley Wright, a high school biology teacher in Saskatchewan, Canada, writes of the results of her experiment of letting students run the class for two weeks. At the end of this period, she announced there would be a standard quiz to test what students had learned. One perpetually failing student, perhaps empowered by gaining some measure of control over her learning, complained that "when she looks at the questions she goes blank" and asked, “If that happens, can I turn over the paper and write all of the stuff I do know?” The next day, the students received their quiz, with one question: "Tell me what you’ve learned."
The fourth post is the Huffington Post's coverage of the "Education Summit" in Washington, D.C. this week. Led by Jed Bush, it "offered a venue for state education secretaries, superintendents, university professors and business execs to share ideas." As with many prior summits, "teachers" are conspicuously missing from the list. What was discussed at this "summit"? The same thing discussed at prior summits - No Child Left Behind, charter schools, distance learning technology, politics and ideology.
In a television intervivew afterwards, Bush and another man focused solely on using the Internet for distance learning, by extending the reach of specially qualified teachers. No doubt, a useful concept, but as the the students of Doug Johnson, Shannon Miller or Shelley Wright could have told them, one that doesn't go nearly far enough. It keeps the teacher in the center, with students sitting passively - and restlessly - in rows, absorbing, in the hopes of being able to soullessly regurgitate the information when cued.
Unaccompanied by significant pedagogical changes that leverages how the world has changed and students have changed, a more qualified teacher on a screen is only a marginal improvement over a less-qualified teacher in class, just as an e-textbook is an inadequate successor to a physical textbook, and a Smart Board not exploited to its potential is simply a chalkboard that runs up the electric bill.
Let's hope there are thousands of Grace Bedells in our midst to quietly foment a revolution. Because our education emperors have nothing at all on.
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