There is no shortage of voices pointing out the need to move beyond industrial-age factory model of education. I am one of them, but I am also a strong critic of criticism that does not offer a compelling alternative. It is one thing to argue that the factory model of education is outdated, but then what? What do we put in its place?
I will illustrate my point using one example of industrial age practices. I am candid about my critique of letter grades.. The letter grade system is an antiquated educational technology that does not align with our growing knowledge about best and promising practices in teaching and learning. Yet, we persist with such practices because:
- the letter grade has become a trusted academic currency,
- we have built educational systems around this technology,
- questions about the letter grade system are not widely discussed,
- educational leaders are often “winners” in the traditional game of education (including letter grades) and find no reason to change things,
- there is not a clear picture of the negative impact of letter grades,
- many remain uninformed about the wonderfully promising current and emerging alternatives,
- teacher training is primarily in how to function in an industrial model of education so changes may be seen as personal risks or challenges to teacher’s current understanding of how to teach and motivate students,
- there is a sense that letter grades are so deeply embedded that it is hard to see how things could change, and
- most people do not have a clear understanding of why and how to make the shift toward one or more of the alternatives.
We are not going to critique our way through the eventual shift away from letter grades. Authors like Alfie Kohn do a fine job pointing out the limitations of something like the letter grade system, but they also offer alternatives. I contend that we need more focus on the alternatives. A critique is necessary, but it is creation that will lead a growing number of learning organizations to abandon letter grades in place of something better. It is getting informed about the possibilities, creating new possibilities, and having the courage and boldness to bring those creations to life. The CD didn’t replace the album because of the many limitations of the album, but because the creation and experience of the CD was embraced as a more promising option.
This is true about many challenges and needs in society as well. There is an important role for critique of the status quo, but we need visionaries who see new possibilities, make them a reality, and invite others to experience what they have created. We need more creators.
This is why I contend that creation should be a central curricular focus of learning organizations. So much can be learned through the process of creating. We can create great questions, positive relationships, communities around a shared social issue, compelling and thoughtful narratives, solutions to problems in the local community or the world, valuable products and services, music, art, scientific experiments, and much more. Imagine a learning organization that made such creation the central attribute of the learning organization. Imagine what could be learned and what rich and valuable creations could be shared with the world in the process.