My goodness! When I sat down to write my first draft of yesterday’s post on a peaceful Sunday afternoon, and even when I published the final version yesterday morning, I really wasn’t sure what issues of authority and initiative would arise during the teacher-training sessions that consumed my face-to-face day on Monday. I had a suspicion that the small-group session (just me leading my fellow Latin teachers) would go pretty well, but that things might deteriorate a bit when we moved to a whole-group activity (all the World Languages teachers in the district) in late morning, and I honestly wasn’t sure about the afternoon (back to school for a school-based training session on a new formative-assessment tool, a new tool to track struggling students, and some important district policies).
Let’s just say it was a day when the 20th-century model (school as factory, teachers as compliant assembly-line workers) and the 21st-century model (school as workshop for creative thinkers, teachers as … whatever teachers’ roles are becoming) collided. Over and over again. If there was a consistent message, it was “Be innovative and use these cool new tools … because I said so.”
Of course, that’s an internally inconsistent message, but it pretty well summed up the day. And I don’t think the irony was lost on anyone – even those folks (like me) who were delivering the message some of the time and receiving it at other times.
I bet you thought “The system is broken and needs to be repaired” when you read that last paragraph!
Lots of people think that. I keep reading blog posts and Tweets about how “schools are broken” or “society is broken” or “everything is broken.” But I really don’t think that’s the case. Maybe it’s a definitional issue: to me, broken means something like “no longer functioning in the way it’s designed to function – or the way it evolved and developed to function.” But 20th-century-style schools are actually functioning exactly as they were designed to function and exactly as they’ve evolved to function. As Seth Godin reminds us, they were built to sort and select students into the categories needed for a 20th-century factory-based economy. They still do that, and the cultural products, practices, and perspectives of 20th-century-style schools perfectly embody that core function.
So schools aren’t exactly broken. As Tony Wagner points out, it’s just that their core function of sorting and selecting 20th-century factory workers is no longer needed. And maybe that’s why the lines of authority and initiative are so blurry all of a sudden. Most people would agree that schools need to do something other than sort and select 20th-century factory workers – but what? And how? And what needs to change for schools to carry out this new mission … whatever it is? No one is sure, and I think that lack of clarity has a lot to do with the blurry lines of authority and initiative.
What do you think? Are schools broken, or are they functioning as designed, but obsolete? Or is something else going on? And to what extent do you notice lines of authority and initiative blurring in schools and other institutions in your world?
quid respondētis, amīcī?