It’s always amazing to me how things work out. “Don’t Bother Me Mom – I’m Learning” by Mark Prensky just arrived from Amazon yesterday and I was immediately enthralled. Of course, he’s “preaching to the choir” with me as a reader, but it’s so awesome to see that someone has organized and verbalized many of the things I’ve known for the past nine years of teaching.
What’s particularly interesting is that David Warlick posted in 2 Cents Worth today an article about a forum that he’ll be moderating in Texas. David asks three questions of his readers that parallel the topics of discussion at this forum. Prensky’s description of the gap between digital natives and digital immigrants certainly addresses why these discussions are taking place.
Here are my responses to David’s questions:
1. “What does the future hold for education?”
By this, I assume the implication is “public education.” At least that’s the stance I’ll take in my response. I believe there’s a huge disconnect between the way our students operate and the way our schools operate. It could simply be the digital divide betweens the immigrants and the natives. The dissemination of new technologies (especially those that are collaborative in nature) and their rate of adoption has progressed so rapidly that our industrial-age schools have been left in the dust. Change is a process, often a painful one, but often necessary. Our instruction, even my own while I was in the classroom, is often very linear and packaged. Admittedly, once I had a formula that could produce 100% proficiency on standardized state testing, I was very reluctant to deviate from it. It was student performance on those high-stakes tests that put my head on the chopping block. I’m not sure this system can sustain this disparity. The future holds inevitable change.
2. “What do schools and districts need to do to prepare for the future?”
We need to stop and ask ourselves: can we let go? I’m sure there’s no easy answer to that. Again, this change is likely to be a painful one because it threatens some of the foundational ways that schools operate. However, if we are to prepare, first I think we need to start planning for change yesterday. We must be very forward-thinking and willing to take some risks. Of course, the concepts of “risk” and “public education” are, in my view, diametrically opposed to each other. That’s why we may see the rise of non-government funded education in the future. Currently, there’s too much bureaucracy, red-tape, and fear of litigation, to be cutting-edge in public education. However, to put aside some pessimism, discussions like these, by the leaders of school districts are a positive step.
3. “What will this future require of communities?”
Our public schools, in some regards, are simply a sub-set of the surrounding community. The digital divide between generations extends beyond the campus. The community as a whole will also be required to make some fundamental changes in the way they perceive education. For example, a local business that hires graduates from a particular local school may have to stop relying solely on GPA and the results of standardized tests and rather look to a particular set of skills that a potential employee brings to the table. What if graduation requirements shifted from students having to show proficiency on a state exam in Biology or Geometry to students producing a portfolio of products that demonstrated not only their skill set but also their personal learning interests? Free-market education, anyone?