Last year, I was contacted by Mango Media who are handling all of the publicity for BETT 2013 and asked the question that many seem to ask when the conversation follows the lines of: “So, you’re speaking at a conference: whaddaya gonna be talking about?”
Here is the piece I provided for their pre-conference material. I’m looking forward to doing an interview with their team following my session on Wednesday.
I hope, as the school year is set to begin in Australia, and term has just resumed in the UK, and as states and districts in the US continue their juggling acts around ideology, public policy and budgets, that the message comes through loud and clear of the crucial role of teachers as ‘human disruptives,’ capable of working with communities to plan schools as places which optimise student engagement and learning which for them, is real.
Whaddaya gonna be talking about?
It’s a lovely spring day here in Australia in late October 2012. The school year is into its final term, and tens of thousands of students are being ushered into large halls to take part in their final examinations: the Higher School Certificate. These students all commenced their school experience as Kindergarten students way back in the year 2000, and have spent the last thirteen years in this place we call school.
Why? Why do we have school anyway?
Since the year 2000 dawned, and the threat of the impact of Y2K on worldwide digital systems proved to be not all that it was cracked up to be, we have seen huge movements in the ways that we engage with the world around us. Facebook has only been around since 2007 and yet, for the students regurgitating their learning in laboured longhand, it is a part of their life which isn’t going anywhere. The web has moved from web 1.0 to 2.0 and onward to the semantic web.
Yet, we still, as a community, accept that we will compel our children, at one of the most critical developmental phases of their lives, to attend an institution which bases its operation and expectations around a role which may most appropriately be described as both a ‘rite of passage’ and a ritual of ‘socialisation.’ As we steer our schooling vehicle toward an uncertain horizon of possibility we seem to have a disproportionate interest in what we can see in the rearview mirror.
There is no suggestion that we do away with the notion of school. What do we give as answers, though, to the question: “Why do we have school?” Does what we continue to do actually achieve the intended outcomes, or are there, in fact, other ways that we could do this?
Access to online delivery and the sophistication of binary suggestion provides a seemingly obvious solution to learning and content transmission. As teachers, however, we need to remain critically aware of our unique human ability to disrupt the logic of the binary world and introduce additional perspectives of objects and subjects which tap that deep well of humanity which is evidenced in awe, wonder and curiosity about the world around us.
Our biggest challenge is to engage communities in being part of the reimagination process. In particular, as we move toward the middle of the second decade of the 21st century, we need to engage with the adults who are the parents of the children we are about to meet.
Amongst these adults will be tweeps and mummy bloggers: intuitive users of social media available right now and not likely to go away anytime soon. People with huge opportunities for canvassing opinion and gaining input to a range of ideas about school and schooling: and their own child. From contentment with ‘getting what they got,’ to ‘expecting change, and wanting to see added value.’
Let’s see if we can engage them in going about the business of planning school; as opposed to school planning. Planning school is about being able to connect people and ideas; as well as using all available sources of data and information to collaborate across a range of forums and media, and then to design and create something which is different and which presents a futures aligned, and obvious, answer to the question “Why do we have school anyway?”
And, as a sobering postscript, a reminder in a link provided by Yong Zhao, of some of the sad possibilites when we seek to provide inappropriate answers to that most basic of questions.
Let’s hope 2013 is a great one for our young people.