Teaching Opinion

How Can We Move Education Forward When So Many Educators Can’t See Past the Way We’ve Always Done It?

By Starr Sackstein — May 21, 2019 3 min read
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Were the educational systems of the past really that awesome?

The way so many people speak reverently about how things used to be, I can’t help but wonder that we’ve left the Garden of Eden of education.

Clinging to the way things have always been doesn’t serve anyone and not critically considering why we did things as we did and why things need to change isn’t great, either.

Sorry, but my sarcasm has a hard time covering itself when it comes to this topic.

If we can all agree that education needs to be about preparing students to be successful in the present world, and we can also agree that the present world we live in is grossly different from generations before in many ways, then how can we possibly keep doing things as we always have?

Recently I had a conversation with a colleague about grading. Any person who has read my blog for a while knows that assessment is a passion of mine and the convictions I have about a system shift in how we assess student learning are strong. So it won’t surprise you to know that I struggled with the overall tone of this conversation.

Some people believe that if we make minor adjustments that move us closer to the big picture changes that need to happen, that these minor adjustments are good enough for now.

I disagree.

If we know there is a bigger picture we need to aspire to, then why not just take the leap and stop pretending that a Band-Aid is going to correct a much more substantial wound?

Of course, I understand that we want stakeholders on board and doing that takes time, but placating the masses doesn’t seem to be affirming our commitment to students and doing what is best for them.

Any world where we are putting so much emphasis on only final products and diminishing the importance of the process that made it happen seems foolish. And assigning point values to every part of the process including how compliant kids are also seems to be the opposite of helpful.

The bottom line is we aren’t teaching kids how to be more responsible or accountable by punishing them for not following our rules or compliantly obstructing their educations.

Currently, most educational systems are set up to churn out students to meet criteria that don’t align with the “real” world that they all use as the reason for why we do what we do. Let’s face it, there are adults who don’t comply or follow rules. ... they don’t get fired most of the time unless they are breaking the law, and in education, in particular, many educators do the very things they penalize students for.

I’m not meaning to shame any teachers or make people feel bad; I just think it is time for us to really look closely at our practices and evaluate how well they are working for our current clientele.

Living in a fantasy world about the way things were doesn’t make now better. I’d even venture to guess that the way we did things before wasn’t working for everyone, just the students who complied. Compliance was more of a thing decades ago, and parents trusted schools more. That’s when the current parents were in school, and that is why they are so onboard with how it used to be, too.

It is our job to educate parents, students, community members as to why things need to change and what changes are going to be implemented for what purposes. We owe them that.

Once we jump down the grading rabbit hole, for example, we aren’t just changing the way we label learning on a report card, we have to look deeper. What are we calling learning? How will it be assessed and by whom? Which standards are we using? Are they universal? How do we agree on what mastery looks like at every age level in different content areas?

All of the questions need to be answered and then agreed upon and then normed as a unit. We simply can’t allow the assessment of learning to be so arbitrary and subjective. It doesn’t serve the people it has to.

Since so many learners have particular needs, we need to go where the kids are and meet them and their needs. We need to learn more about how to do that and then make the necessary adjustments. We work for them;not the other way around.

How can we move all education systems into the current century, meeting each student where he/she is? Please share

*Picture made using pablo.com

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.