As I write my inaugural entry for this site, Julian Assange is being persecuted by the press and the political establishment for leaking documents that amount to nothing more critical than serious embarrassment for those involved. Many have even flippantly called for his assassination. While, as Dan Gardner pointed out recently in the Vancouver Sun, “Dubya” has admitted recently in his memoirs that he authorized the use of torture (water boarding) which is, in fact, a criminal offense. Yet GWB remains free.
Canada meanwhile has been awarded yet another “Fossil of the Day Award” at the most recent climate talks taking place in Cancun.
This is but a glimpse of the socio political climate in which we’re trying to educate our students. I can’t help but notice the disconnect between what we’re trying to teach kids in the classroom about freedom of speech, civilized discourse and just generally ‘doing the right thing’ and what we, as adults, often model in the world that we’ve created.
At the same time I see numerous movements in education, both locally and internationally, that offer inspiration, and hope. The inspiration provides the impetus to change what we do as educators so as to prepare students for a wildly uncertain future. This gives me hope that given the energy, enthusiasm and optimism so prevalent among the young, the right educational reforms will lead to some truly transformative change on all levels. As John Abbott so succinctly puts it in his book “Over Schooled But Undereducated”, we all need to ask ourselves “What Kind of Education for What Kind of World?”
The BC Ministry of Education is moving the province's schools toward a model of “Personalized Learning”, herein lays opportunity. Since even the Minister and Deputy Minister of education admit that they’re not sure what it’s going to look like, this is our chance as educators to get involved with educational reform rather than having it dictated to us.
Much difficult work lies ahead however. If we accept that ‘personalized learning’ is the way of the future, the name itself implies that “education” will look different for each and every student. How do we attend to such practical tasks as timetabling students and effectively and efficiently assessing work in such an environment? On another level, how do we move school and community culture, particularly at secondary school, away from the model that holds grades and marks as ‘currency’ to be bartered for coveted spots in post secondary institutions? Is such a cultural paradigm shift even possible? How we deal with issues such these will determine whether or not the Ministry’s goal of Personalized Education amounts to another evolutionary change or a truly revolutionary change.
The role of technology is another huge topic for consideration as education moves forward. The technological landscape of today would be unrecognizable to someone looking forward from even as recently as 10 years ago. Blogs, Tweets and Texts (oh my!) are three forms of communication considered vital among the young, yet none of them even existed 10 years ago. Today’s kids can’t even imagine the world in which we grew up, where the phone was the thing that hung on the wall in the kitchen. One of our tasks is to teach creative and judicious use of these incredibly powerful communication tools, even as we learn how to use them ourselves, and as the tools themselves continue to evolve. This sort of constant, perpetual change in communication technology offers both exciting opportunities, and potential pitfalls as we move toward Personalized Learning.
So that's just a bit of thinking about where I stand. As I wrap this up I'm listening to Bernie Sanders filibuster speech in the US Senate. Unlike most filibusters, Mr. Sanders has spoken eloquently and engagingly for over 6 hours now about the precarious and sometimes desperate plight of much of the US population. Though I'm well aware that things here in Canada are not as dire, nor are the politics as divisive or polarized, the troubles of our large neighbour to the south are indicative of the tumultuous and, in many ways, troubling times in which we live. All true educators however believe in the transformative power of their chosen profession. Now more than ever we need to step up and help lead the way to a more just and equal society. The first step toward such a daunting goal would be to take our education system from good to better.