When our ancestors believed the world was flat, their reference points and expectations were based on a flat earth reality. They could rationalize whatever they saw on the horizon or in the heavens in relation to their flat earth. It all made sense given the certainties of the era. One indisputable fact led to another and reality was established. At some point, a few brave souls began to consider and speak of different possibilities, ones that caused them some trouble as they challenged the infallibility of the flat earth truth. And when their wondering took flight and their voices gained confidence, evidence became more visible and new realities emerged. Goodbye old certainties as everything changed – and no one fell off the edge.
When the 4 minute mile and the 10 second 100 yard sprint were unconquerable feats, great athletes simply couldn’t break through those standards. It wasn’t possible and many world-class runners tried and failed. The certainty that it couldn’t be done, that it was beyond human capacity, defined reality…until someone believed differently, someone ran faster and then it was done. Once the records were broken, the “impossible” barriers were conquered over and over again. Now there are high school runners achieving those standards.
If a physicist from a millennium ago were asked about the possibility of traveling to the moon, the answer would have been that it couldn’t be done, never would be and such foolishness shouldn’t be spoken of again. That was absolute, based on all the available science. Eventually, new curiosities led to new theories that infiltrated old certainties and different realities began to emerge, born of a wonderful combination of curiosity and perseverance.
How does any of this resonate in our educational galaxy? How many “old knowns” continue to rattle around our corridors and how many have we finally stopped believing and relegated to the archives, just like a flat earth and the unbreakable 4 minute mile?
Here are a few to check on for starters:
– there are smart kids and not so smart kids and “levels” of intelligence are pretty much set before we ever see kids at the schoolhouse door;
– gender and ethnicity influence areas of strength: eg. boys are better at Math and Science than girls…;
– the Arts are a nice frill if we can afford them but important learning happens in the core academic areas;
– a school’s role is primarily to impart knowledge and content and to make judgments based on the ability to recall facts;
– the 8 X 5 timetable rules supreme and learning has to be organized within that framework;
– the bus schedule trumps any educational rationale for change;
– the kid needs to fit the system rather than the system fitting the kid;
– the reward and punishment dyad is central to motivation and the infallibility of school house rules;
– discipline motivates. Misbehaving kids are just being willful, not dysregulated;
– if it can’t be measured by a standard test, it can’t be very important;…
…and so it goes. Your list may be different, longer or shorter. But there is a list and we work through it to create environments where new curiosities challenge old/stale certainties. Here are two thought leaders who cultivate some rich conversation as we hold current practice up to the light of what human potential can achieve: