Also known as Education in the era of Uncertainty
Am I to blame? As I look around as the world seems to implode, I wonder how much did I contribute to its decline? How much did I contribute to “fake news” and “alternative facts”. How much did I contribute to a world that values Twitter trolling more than hard facts from empirical science? How much did I contribute to a world where the lines between the secular and religious and political have become so blurred that it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference?
As I sit here on this Thanksgiving weekend, I’m convinced that I bear a heavy burden for the current state of our world. I constantly ask myself and think about my classroom and the schools I work. Do I encourage civil discourse? Do I engage in active listening? Do I exemplify the behaviors that I believe are essential? I tried. But I think I’ve failed. I wonder how many of us see ourselves at the root of the societal problems we now find ourselves?
Our schools and classrooms are microcosms of the larger society with which we live. So, the question is then, do our schools establish the habits that we aspire society to become or does it reinforce our basest elements?
Personally, I like to think of myself as an idealist. But, I think I suffer from what Walter Isaacson call’s “reality distortion”. I am willing to suspend my disbelief of reality in order to strive toward better. Sometimes this approach works, but often times in a best case scenario it can lead to frustration and in a worst case scenario, isolation. I am certain of one thing though. Unless our classrooms and schools can be reality distortion bubbles, our society will never grow. If our students never get an opportunity to experience “what could be” instead of “what is”, then why should we ever expect things to be better? Our students face realities that I can’t imagine. Realities that I wouldn’t wish upon any one, but yet, these realities exist. The reason why reality distortion fields are critical to our schools is because if all we do is enable students to function in our current realities, how do we expect for our world to get better?
So, I constantly ask myself what do I do that reinforces the behaviors that perpetuate the cycle of our current reality. Do I exhibit subconscious biases that infiltrate the nooks and crannies of my classroom? Do I practice rules and procedures that in the end only beat down individuals to succumb to the overbearing force of reality?
As I now have the opportunity to travel into many classrooms and schools, I have observed many of the normal “routines” of school that are hard-realities of society.
I’ve seen a classroom of 3rd graders where the single minority student was ostracized at his own desk in the corner.
I’ve seen a group of 1st graders march down the hall in single file with a finger over their lips and their other hand in the shape of a zero held over their held.
I’ve seen a middle school boy who has become so frustrated with school that he purposefully thinks of ways to get suspended from school.
I’ve seen a 4th grader who has decided she can’t read and waits for an adult to read to her.
I’ve seen students completely frustrated because a teacher deducted “late points” for an assignment that needed to printed, but the family couldn’t afford ink.
I’ve seen elementary students who didn’t have “perfect attendance” forced to watch the kids that did play games.
I’ve seen kids who are struggling to read publicly shamed on AR point charts.
I’m sure the educators that performed these acts have perfectly reasonable rationales. I imagine that conversation sounds something like:
“They need to learn responsibility.”
“Students need to learn how to deal with the real-world.”
“They need tough-love.”
And on and on. But ask yourselves, how many of the problems, the real problems, do these responses actually address?
How does the seeping of the reality our students’ day-to-day life inspire them to a future that could be different?
The problem by in large is that we as adults lack the imagination to see a world different from our own. But the good news is that we change that. Today. This instant. We can consciously choose to be the future we want for our children. We can create our own reality distortion fields.
I choose to strive for Utopia instead of dystopia.
I hope to write a series of how the classroom and school can be exemplars of how we can reshape and reimagine our world. I would love to hear your thinking. Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @the_explicator.