Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I Heard the News Today, Oh Boy

That Beatles song keeps playing in my head as I read news about education, debt, public policy and the general modern-day miseducation of America.

In Seattle, 100 or so K-12 teachers known as the Badass Teachers Association - aka (crazy as) BATS - marched on the Gates Foundation last month. They decided Bill Gates is personally responsible for holding them responsible for student performance on tests. They're mad as BATS, free for the summer, and want  Bill (who has little say in proposals funded, but a public name and lots of money) to butt out in funding innovation proposals. (We don't need no stinkin' innovation.) They pooled money from somewhere to bring in keynote rabble-rouser Anthony Cody ("we hate STEM") from California as there doesn't seem to be enough rabble in the PNW. Bless their hearts for effort.

At the same time, in Tacoma, my colleague - the brilliant and thoughtful Ingrid Walker - led a discussion at the Grand Cinema after the viewing of The Ivory Tower. The documentary, and discussion, brought out a calmer, more diverse and less rabbly crowd. While focusing on hard topics explored in the film (cost, value, disruption, the new loss of trust by society in HE), the audience seemed aware that answers will only come out of very good, hard questions. But also that change is already in the wind, and it's bringing on a storm.

Part of the storm, I believe, comes from people who don't want to think deeply and simply to blame. They ask questions that have the power of a slammed door: Who stole my lovely past? Who moved my cheese? Who let these low-brow, underachieving, non-elite, in-debt learners into college? Why can't we go back to the way it was before technology? What the hell is a MOOC really? Oh, and why doesn't Sal Khan just shut up about the value of personalized learning?

Interesting questions, all. Won't get us anywhere. The reality is that we have left behind a golden past in the industrial age. A past where lock-step schooling was good enough to prepare poor kids for good, dull factory jobs. It paid the bills, bought small homes, and even sent (some, maybe) of their children to college. That doesn't work anymore and everyone from BATS to Bill Gates knows that. Despite/pace Diane Ravitch's empire and its claim all is hunky-dory, we have to do better. We have to change, to prepare for a knowledge age, to create affordable and achievable education for all, and educators have to stop whining about how it will inconvenience us to do it.

Just do it. Just "do the work" as my friend, sociologist Debra Friedman repeatedly said. I hear her voice in my head all the time. Especially when reading the news today, Oh Boy. Do the work.