Sometimes we are so close to problems that we fail to even recognize them as such. When others point out the problem to us, we might even accuse them of over reacting, being unrealistic, extreme, or “rocking the boat.” If we look into history, we can see incredibly troubling examples of this, even when entire people groups accept immoral behaviors as normal. Of course, those exist in our communities and societies around the world today as well, what some have called moral blind spots.
I’m not quite ready to frame all the topics that I explore on this blog as moral issues, although I confess to thinking in such terms at times. Yet, there are common practices in much of education today that work very much like these moral blind spots. We grew up with the practices. Then, for those of us who entered the field of education, we adopted them. Students are acclimated to them. Parents are acclimated to them, even preferring them and demanding a return to them when people try something else. Even the larger society is comfortable with them.
While this is a topic that I’ve discussed before, it was highlighted for me recently when walking through a school hallway. I overheard a student talking about how much she liked a teacher because, when he lectured, he took the time to highlight what students needed to know for the test. “That makes it so much easier for me to focus upon what is important and not get distracted by all the other stuff,” I overheard the student.
In that moment, I experienced what felt like a combination of embarrassment and sadness. Is that really where we are in education today? We think school is mostly about getting ready for the test? The nuances, the wonder, the intriguing problems and questions, the provocative discussions, the struggle of trying to develop a new habit of thinking…these just fit into the category of “other stuff”, disregarded unless they are going to be tested? Is this really the education system that we want for students…for ourselves? Is this what we believe is going to best equip people for a rich, full, rewarding, meaningful life?
Fortunately, my brief eavesdropping is only one experience, yet this mindset is evident in policy-making, school design, teaching style, learning style, and more. I’m sure that I conform to it without evening recognizing it at times, and it is not okay.
Yet, there are wonderfully encouraging exceptions. I find hope in these exceptions. When you choose to be the exception, people might call you a dreamer, unrealistic, extreme, or even a troublemaker. Own it. Be the exception and stick with it long enough that a crowd of exceptions help create a new normal in our education ecosystem. Believing that education and schooling can and should be about things like wonder, curiosity, true personal growth and transformation, and deep learning is not the position of pie-in-the-sky dreamers. That is achievable and desirable, if only we regain 20-20 vision from the exceptions around us, and join in helping them to spread.