Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Commentary: Sotir: No One’s Gonna Start a Revolution *

History is always good for looking back to where we were, and determining when we got there, but not until it’s all gone. This poignant seeking of paradise lost was lamented by Joni Mitchell when she sang Big Yellow Taxi in 1970, but Bob Dylan felt it too, and so did Pinhead Gunpowder and even the Counting Crows…
‘Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you got 'til it's gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot’ **

Education in general has never been the bellwether for the development of our societal structure, even though many people fervently believe it should be. It has also historically been a parking lot, or a means to an end. Other forces tend to take the lead, and education follows meekly behind whatever ‘revolution’ develops. Whether it’s the Industrial Revolution or the Technology Revolution, the changes occur well before educators try to adapt curriculum to meet the new standards. Part of the problem is that all real revolutions take time, and by nature are multi-generational. Each generation adapts the changes to meet their comfort zone. President Bush might own and enjoy an i-Pod but I doubt his playlist would include Gnarls Barkley or the Arctic Monkeys. We seek our own level of comfort.

The changes sometimes seem subtle. Parents rarely understand what their children are doing or even understand why. They struggle to adapt, and succeed only on minimal levels. It’s a game of balance where the elders attempt to impart their catalog of knowledge and experience to those who rarely see the need for such information until they find themselves in trouble.

The problem with the current technological revolution is that unlike the plodding revolutions of the past, this one is blazingly fast. It took months or even years for someone to develop the means to move off the farm and into a big city, get a job and change society. Now, the changes can occur quite literally at the drop of a finger to keyboard. If you want to move to the city today, you can go to the Internet to find a job, an apartment, the plane to take you to there and the nearest take out pizza place to feed you when you arrive. You can even reserve a speed dating event once you get there so you don’t have to go it alone. Not years or even months, but minutes. Instant gratification.

What’s changing is not the ‘what’ but the ‘how’. We think differently today, and we need to teach differently today as well. What the kids inherently know is how to gather information and process it to meet their end goals. Curriculum has historically been developed by instructors who organize the information for students to process. Get a text, follow the text, discuss the information it contains and test to see that the information has been retained.

Kids today don’t think in the same way. They are group problem solvers…if you don’t know the answer, text the problem to a group of your friends and resolve it together. r u ready? Most educators are not. Developing curriculum under the old standards almost guarantees failure. The Internet has empowered the new generation to get information they need when they need it. We used to get an assignment, go to the library, try to figure out what we needed to look for in the card catalog, and pray that the book had the information we needed in it somewhere and that it was still on the shelf. Now, a few keywords will bring us millions of resources, and we don’t have to leave the house.

Educators are trying to come to grip with the changes. We are almost obsessed with ‘accountability’, yet few know what we need to make education really accountable. Tests have always been the standard for performance, but what do we test? And what will the results prove? Providing information is not as important as providing the tools, the environment and the inspiration to help students learn. Information is all around us. It is our job to show students how to use it effectively to make the process work. Educators need to lead the new revolution. We can’t just settle for the draw.

For another perspective, view Converge online article of a survey on the impact of technology for K-12 educators: http://newsroom.cdwg.com/features/feature-06-26-06.html
* Settle for a Draw: Arctic Monkeys
”No one's gonna start a revolution So you better leave it well alone…”*
** Big Yellow Taxi: Joni Mitchell