Thursday, December 8, 2011

Critical Mass and the 100th Monkey

Despite massive and myriad attempts on the part of parents, teachers, and students to have some effect on the national (and international) dialogue about "school reform," the powers that be seem deaf to even the most well-reasoned arguments, and those of us who have acted as "voices in the wilderness" certainly feel invisible as well.  It seems obvious to me, and to thousands of others like me, that after thirty years of infighting to change the schools, it’s time we realized that numbers, statistics, and political rhetoric only tell us the symptoms of out-of-date schools: drop-outs, bullying, gangs, parent unrest, a proliferation of alternatives, loud and long debates, and all the rest.

Statistics cannot, by their very nature, get to the heart of the problem.  Schools are not businesses with numerical bottom lines. They are organizations of people that much more resemble families than factories.   When schools are allowed, encouraged, and supported to redesign themselves as collaborative systems that inspire students, teachers, and parents to share and pursue knowledge, then we will have the kind of educational "families" that can nurture each child individually and return FUN, belonging, and excitement to the learning process--for all of us.

Thus, with the dawning of the REAL Age of Aquarius (Hey, those Mayans knew SOMETHING was happening, right?), we're approaching that moment when a critical mass of public opinion will be reached and, like the learning of the hundredth monkey, we will all intuitively know what we have to do:  Create a new paradigm for public education--for every child in the world--that encompasses what we know about the human brain:

Human brains are designed to synthesize multiple factors and functions and to build webs of meaning, not to be forced into narrow, linear, prescribed channels of thought. Like the Worldwide Web, schools must become smarter, faster, lighter, more adaptable, more collaborative, more open-ended, more technologically integrated, and more connected to the global community--a Renaissance of schooling for ALL kids.

Teachers must have time, training, and support to adapt to the new realities:  They will learn to become coaches, facilitators, creators, nurturers, designing projects and interactive experiences that engage students with important content. They will work with parents and their communities to expand "school" beyond classrooms and into cyberspace and real-world environments.  When we catch on to this concept and help teachers unlock their own creativity, just stand back, folks, because a whole universe of untapped energy will be released. 

At the same time, school systems must find ways of downsizing their bureaucracies and of meeting NOT the needs of the adults, but rather the needs of the students:
  • Kids want answers to these questions: What am I doing here, how does this relate to me, what can I do with this information, how can I help make the world a better place? 
  • Kids need NOT more factoids, but more MEANING: How to make connections among ideas, how to value the importance of information, how to assemble a big picture and do something meaningful with it--a global picture. 
  • Kids need connection, a sense of belonging, inspiration, direction--and a way to use their own talents, passions and skills to build a life in the new world that is revealing itself as the new millennium progresses.
Imagine what school must look like to achieve these goals, for EVERY child at every age, and that is the starting point for “school reform”: a deeper level of learning than we have ever experienced before. What we're really talking about is breaking down barriers and false walls and bringing people together in creative, intelligent environments where all members of the community can learn, grow, and thrive. 

Yes, that's right.  This is an entirely NEW VISION of what schools are and what we want them to do.  And the more of us who talk about this new vision and blog about it and share it with our friends, the faster we will all be able to change our minds.  As we take the quantum leap of changing our minds, we will, at last, be able to change the schools in a meaningful way and, in the process, transform the world.  Join in by "liking" ChangeTheSchools on Facebook, or join another group, but, somehow, let YOUR voice be heard!