This could have been more appropriately titled “The Illusion of Education” or something to the tune of “What Really Happens in Classrooms”, but I think the starting point of where theory meets reality is precisely what education needs to re-consider as it continues to carve better ways of teaching our children. To keep it all the way real, I must disclose my opinion: theory will never truly transcend the reality of education unless those invested in creating the theoryof education (schools, curriculum, teacher-student relationships, etc.) invest an equal amount of time in the reality of education itself. This means that the “movers and shakers” in education need to move a little more than occasionally suiting up to visit a school or analyzing the latest results of some standardized testing scores.
Anyways, it is safe to assume that everyone involved in education has their hearts in the right place. Nevertheless, here a few spots within education where the theory is indeed not meeting the reality.
Yes, technology is the single-most impactful culture shift in the last two and a half decades. Yes, we need to think of better ways to integrate technology into the classroom. Yes, technology will increase student engagement and productivity if used properly. But technology, whether it is web-based platforms that inspire creativity and learning or the impetus on coding as this new-found holy grail of learning (which, by the way, is just a new spin on the old factory model of education), is only effective when technology works. When I bring my students to the computer lab and half the computers don’t work and it takes twenty minutes for my students to simply log on, all that theory about integrating technology into education goes out the door. As a teacher, I want to learn about ways to use technology in my program. I know techo-literacy is important. But when I am forced to jump through a million hoops just to get some technology into my program, I refer back to the chalkboard. At the end of the day, I have a job to do.
The Student-Teacher Relationship
I have briefly mentioned this subject in previous blogs. The student-teacher relationship is the most important factor in student engagement and excellence. Chris Emdin, professor at Columbia University, had a Ted Talk titled, “Teach Teachers how to Create Magic” and eloquently pointed this fact out. When teachers actually communicate that they care, students will learn. But what does the reality look like?
In reality, most teachers care. They care that their students learn and these teachers work hard to get students to learn. But, theory meets reality a little bit different here. That is because there is a subtle difference between caring about a student studying for a test and doing well in their class and caring about that student as a person. After the Brown vs. Board decision on integrating education passed, many black communities still did not want their children going to all-white schools. The reason is because they felt that the black schools, led by black teachers, actually cared for their students. They felt this disposition would inevitably serve their children better than hauling them off to more academically reputable “white” schools. This intuition served well for the schools like Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. This is not an attempt to move the discussion towards race. The point is that all in education know how important the student-teacher relationship is, but the reality is that many teachers don’t precisely understand what “caring” is actually supposed to mean. All teachers care about their students, but the word “care” carries a fluidity within it that exposes the difference between theory and reality.
So, what do we do?
Suturing theory with reality would be more easily achieved by urging policy-makers, academics, and theorists to actually spend more time practicing what they preach. But it is not the only path to get to the point where theory meets reality. When considering and designing anything new to education, those who are sitting around deliberating about how to improve education should invite more teachers into the conversation (what a novel idea, right!). Education is in place because we want our students, the future generation, to succeed and leave society in a better place than it is today. To do this, the theory behind education and the reality that is teaching need to forge a little better relationship than what is happening at present.