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:
- John Abbott’s Battling for the Soul of Education http://bit.ly/1MDVwGM is a clarion call, worthy of study with a pencil and highlighter (real or digital) for margin notes and professional dialogue. His perspective challenges us, and we have miles to go, even in places where we hold forward-thinking beliefs about every child’s capacity to thrive. Abbott’s piece is both an affirmation and a reminder of the hard work ahead. He takes us back in time to revisit some of the fundamentals of universal education and then forward to new times full of the authentic power of rich and meaningful learning environments;
- Another discussion piece presenting a very different look at system norms is Andreas Schleicher’s Five Things I’ve Learned http://bit.ly/1FaG01a. It honours the spirit of curiosity and the potential of new understandings to shift old myths to the past tense. Schleicher challenges assumptions that remain as building blocks of our education system even when flaws in their structural integrity have been exposed.