New Hope for Education?



I’m sitting here at 10:48 pm and I can’t go to sleep because I just finished what is perhaps one of the more riveting books I’ve read in a while, Tony Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap.  Before I proceed, I must confess that I’m an ed-head as my friend affectionately calls me, which means that I basically devour most things education related.  This though, was worth the read.  Right now, there are so many thoughts swirling in my head, but I’ll try to distill them into a few digestible ones so that the real conversation can begin.  

First, the premise that in case anyone hasn’t noticed, what we’re doing isn’t working.  Despite the fact that it feels like everyone is decrying public education as often as they can, it seems like the current “reforms” of the day are barely moving the needle.  Sure, we’re getting more kids to pass bad tests (and that’s even debatable).  But are we really preparing more future citizens to be competitive in the global world of tomorrow, at scale?  Few would argue that we are.  Which brings me to my second point…

The debate about what’s wrong in education seems to be all about the wrong things.  What do we hear about when we hear the terms “ed reform”?  Charter schools vs. traditional public schools.  Vouchers.  Unions vs. student needs.  Test Scores.  Achievement Gap.  Academic Rigor. Common Standards (as in, the problem with schools is that we lack common standards). Accountability (as in the problem with schools is that teachers lack accountability or schools lack accountability).  Wagner introduces a few additional concepts (probably not new to anyone who has given some time to think about the purpose of education).  These concepts are his seven survival skills that students need in order to be globally competitive in this new age: critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration skills, agility and adaptability, initiative and entrepreneurship, communication skills, the ability to access and analyze information, and curiosity and imagination.  Regardless of whether or not you agree that these specific skills, when was the last time you heard the conversation around how to “fix” schools include some version of these attributes describing the type of student learning?  As a matter of fact…

When was the last time we heard anything in the debate about how to “fix” public education, where we discussed what parents, communities, and society viewed as the purpose of education?  It seems like a novel idea, but why haven’t we begun the conversation with this question?  What is the purpose of education?  I bet that if we began here, the reforms we created might look a bit more inclusive of some of Wagner’s real world skills, or at least different from what passes for “reform” today.  

Look, I’m simply a husband, father of two soon to be school aged children, and a former public school teacher.  What do I know, right? But that’s the point!  After reading this book (and spending a good portion of the past seven years developing public school teachers) I’m starting to realize a few things.  My biggest thought right now is the one Wagner ends on, which is the charge he proposes to readers to initiate conversations at their local level.  It’s very much in the hands of those of us who live, work, and play in our communities to change the nature of the conversation.  And I couldn’t be more excited about starting that good work.  



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