Tag Archives: Stop Stealing Dreams

13 Sacred Cows in Schools (and what to do about them)

8 Dec

Sacred Cow (def’n): Something which cannot be tampered with, or criticized, for fear of public outcry. A person, institution, belief system, etc. which, for no reason other than the demands of established social etiquette or popular opinion, should be accorded respect or reverence, and not touched, handled or examined too closely.

In his paradigm for a new education system, “Stop Stealing Dreams“, Seth Godin mentions the word “industrial” seventy-eight times (creativity only four times and innovation just twice!!). Godin sees industrial thinking as the main problem with our education system.

He asserts that modern schools “…were invented at precisely the same time we were perfecting mass production and interchangeable parts and then mass marketing. ” Modern schools were designed to produce compliant workers and eager consumers for our emerging industrial  economy.

Godin says we’re now living in a “post-industrial age” and need to change our schools for changing times. Standardization and conformity should be eliminated and replaced with a love for learning, self-expression and innovation.

I don’t completely agree with everything Godin writes in “Step Stealing Dreams”, but I acknowledge  that schools need to change, and quickly. The shift from standardization and conformity has already begun, and schools are too slow to respond.

Educators must look critically at the “sacred cows” in schools, the vestiges of industrial age thinking, and decide if they have any place in an education system that tries to foster independent thinking and individuality.

Here’s my list of Sacred Cows in our Schools and what we need to do with them. The aim is to start people thinking about those things we accept as part of schools, but no longer make sense. I suspect that as you consider these 13 you’ll see many other things that no longer makes sense:

  1. Uniforms and Dress Codes: Students who make more choices get better at making choices. Expressing yourself with what you wear is an easy first step. A child in kindergarten can choose their clothes. Provide general expectation around appropriate dress, nothing else.
  2. Anthems & Flags: You can’t expect students to think independently but make the first act of the day standing in obedience to national symbols. Let children make choices about what is deserving of their respect. Explain why it’s important and let them choose.
  3. Walking in Lines: Instead of forcing children to move through schools silently in straight lines talk to them about respecting others’ rights, why that’s important, and let them figure out how to do that.
  4. Timetables and Tardy Slips: The same start and end times don’t work for everyone and they aren’t necessary. If students naturally wake up later, let them. Run schools on “flex time” so that students can learn when it’s best for them.
  5. Grades and Report Cards: Feedback is an essential tool in learning but learning is complex. Assigning an arbitrary letter or number to an emerging skill is misleading and often confusing. See Joe Bower’s excellent blog for more on this.
  6. Grouping by Age: The benefits of multi-age groupings are well documented yet we continue to group students based on what year they were born. Use flexible groupings that change as student needs change.
  7. Bells: A school that runs on bells screams “factory model”. Let students take breaks or eat when they need to, not when everybody else does.
  8. Desks in Rows: Learning doesn’t always happen in isolation, so why isolate students? Flexible arrangements that support students working both independently and collaboratively are needed.
  9. Exams: A single large evaluation, written in a large hall, doesn’t work for all students so why do it? Give students choices: a major project, write a thesis and defend it, etc.
  10. Morning Announcements: Few people get their information at the same time and in the same way as everyone else. They get it when they need it and how they choose. Put announcements on school social media or web resources so students can access information when they need it.
  11. School/Classroom Rules: One set of rules for all students doesn’t make sense. They have different needs and abilities. Instead use a set of guiding principles that can be applied to all students rather than a list of the things you can’t do.
  12. Fixed Classroom Walls: The recent work of Fielding-Nair and The Third Teacher is challenging the idea that children learn best in boxes. Sometimes walls are needed but sometimes they isolate and remove possibilities for collaboration. Movable walls offer flexibility and options.
  13. Desks and Chairs: A variety of furniture types support a variety of learning and learners. Tables for group work, couches and bean bags for reading, floor place for kinesthetic learning, etc.

Changing these 13 things won’t, on their own, change schools. Changing them will, however, make a new way of teaching and learning more likely. They’ll provide a fertile ground for the seeds of educational change to flourish and grow.

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“Stop Stealing Dreams”-Part 1

1 Mar

It took me a couple of days but I made read through Seth Godin‘s ‘30,000 word manifesto’, “Stop Stealing Dreams“. It’s a complicated text with a lots of stuff in it and it will take me a while to fully digest it.

Here are my initial thoughts:

  • I agree with Godin’s large premise, that public schools are outdated, industrial era institutions that need to change because we need citizens with different skills than we did one hundred years ago. So many of the things schools do have nothing to do with learning. I never understand the big deal schools make about being late. I understand about time missed, but some kids need less time or don’t wake up until later. What about that?
  • The history of public schooling is interesting, but feels familiar. I think it was covered more completely by reformers like  John Taylor Gatto and John Holt
  • The list of top 10 employers and the loss of secure ‘middle jobs’ is fascinating. It’s something I’ve been reading about for a while, but it seems it is finally here. What’s interesting is how resistant our culture is to changing the values. People still hang on to the notion that kids need to do what they and their parents did to get ahead in life. It seems like it won;t be until there is widespread failure that we realize the ‘gig’ is up. Are we sharing stories about people who’ve played by the old rules but can’t make ends meet?
  • The lack of a shift in culture is a problem as educators try to implement reforms. Parents want their kids to be obedient, do their work and respect authority and they want that to be rewarded. If it isn’t, or if parents are told that students are struggling because they lack creativity, they have idea what that means or how to help. It seems like we are straddling two paradigms and need to find a way to serve both.
  • I like the notion that we need to change our role as teachers and what we do. We need to become facilitators and coaches who help and support students as they take risks, fail and try again. We need to be less of a gatekeeper and more of a doorman. Teachers need to be in the business of helping students find their passion and fanning those flames. We need to shift from creating workers to creating artists and dreamers.
  • This of course runs completely counter to the various efforts out there to make schools accountable and measure progress. This will be a long and hard fought battle. And it will be fought in legislatures, in school board offices, in staff rooms and in classrooms. The old order will not go quietly.
  • Connection is the new crucial. The more connected we are, to knowledge, resources and to others the smarter we are. Smart is no longer about knowledge it’s about connection. Our students need to understand this today.

These are the building blocks of Godin’s manifesto and the rest of his writing is about how to implement this vision and rehashing why we should. The last section was about the coming change to post-secondary education which seemed very American and not as relevant to k-12 education, so I scanned most of that.