As I advance in my experience in education (and, to be honest, my age as a person), I find myself wanting to find ways to “cut the crap” and just get down to what matters most. As I reflect on how the field of education, and the world in general, has changed over the past 20 years, I find a common theme emerging in how we measure success. More and more, success seems to be measured by outward appearances that one is, in fact, a worthwhile human being. In much of the world, the things you have, the places you live, and the way you present yourself on social media often create or limit the opportunities you receive. In an increasing number of schools, success seems to be measured by the programs used, the way buildings look, the amount of technology present, and the ways in which schools market themselves. There is no doubt that quality instructional materials, safe and habitable schools, and access to technology are important. In my experience, however, none of these items compare to the growth and sense of community that children, families, and school staff experience when they come together as a group of humans united in pursuit of a common purpose.
Thinking about this brings me back to an essential question about the purpose of schooling in general. Why do we have schools? As I understand it, schools provide a community center for individuals to come together to advance positive change, locally and globally. Successful schools are places where students feel accepted and valued, and where families feel welcomed and informed. And above all, in my opinion, the purpose of a school is to provide the educational and social foundations that individuals need in order to become productive, successful members of society.
When I look at where many schools place a majority of their value and funding, I see a mismatch between the purpose of education and the ways in which schools make visible what they value. Schools are supposed to engage in an ongoing process of implementation, assessment, reflection, and revision in instruction to determine and provide what each student needs to be successful–this is, to use a buzz word, “personalized learning” at its finest. So why aren’t we focused on sharing goals, struggles, implementations, revisions, and progress of the students that attend the school in our communications with families and communities, rather than using public spaces and social media outlets to talk about iPads, “Makerspaces,” and colleges that we may or may not be preparing our students to attend? Is it because other schools are doing it, and we need to keep up if we are to maintain our enrollment numbers? Or because we think society cares more about what we say we do and what we look like we are doing than what we actually do? Or is it because, as I fear, we know we are falling desperately short in creating meaningful student growth that bridges to achievement, so we find other things to focus on and promote that can make us look good anyway?
I am not going to conclude this post with any kind of overarching solution or charge to educators. I will also not close with a biased judgement or accusation about the state of education today. Instead, I invite readers to sit with the questions that I have posed, observe the learning communities they operate within, and reflect on what they see.