What do we need to improve educational quality and outcomes in the 21st Century? Let’s start with LESS governmental intervention, rather than more. We need educational deregulation. (qualified as I explain below) This summer (in July) I am taking my last class for my doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction through the College of Education at Texas Tech University. My professor, Dr Mellinee Lesley, has selected the book “Integrating Multiple Literacies in K-8 Classrooms: Cases, Commentaries, and Practical Applications” by Janet Richards and Michael McKenna as our primary text. In Chapter 3, “Toward a Theoretical Framework of New Literacies on the Internet: Central Principles,” contributing authors Donald Leu and Charles Kinzer observe (correctly in my opinion) that the definition of literacy is dynamic, and in order to remain relevant, educators at all levels must begin (or continue) to study, understand, and utilize the wide variety of multimedia as well as text-based communicative mediums available inside and outside the classroom to help students become successful 21st century communicators and netizens.

There is tremendous momentum in education circles, including higher education, that is formidable to address much less overcome. I found the following observation from their chapter noteworthy in this context. They wrote, “It is ironic that those of us who have constructed our careers around the book may be among the last to recognize and thus to help shape needed research and pedagogy with regard to the fundamental changes taking place to literacy.” (p. 28)

How right they are. These observations coincide precisely with those of David Warlick, who wrote “Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century.” This was the secondary text we used in my “Advanced Integration of Technology into the Curriculum” graduate/undergraduate course in June/July 2005. We must, as educators of all levels and artificially defined, discrete “content areas,” recognize the fundamental changes that have and continue to transform our knowledge landscape as a global society and make adjustments to our curricula and teaching methods which are often still rooted in 19th century educational praxis.

But we cannot make these changes alone as educators in our classrooms, because in 2005, we live in an educational environment where the intervening role of governmental authorities as well as district-level administrators has unprecedented strength. In public schools in Lubbock, Texas, where I live, and elsewhere across our great nation, teachers are coerced through an intentional campaign of fear and intimidation to abandon authentic modes of student inquiry and project-based instruction (which takes far too much TIME) in favor of traditional, worksheet and test-driven didactic instructional methods. Even if a teacher WANTS to be non-traditional and engage students in activities which develop media and digital literacies alongside more traditional literacy skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking, there is tremendous external pressure on the classroom teacher (which cannot be ignored) to teach to the test.

Leu and Kinzer correctly point out that educational goals and outcomes should be established with the needs of the current business climate in mind. They point out appropriately that in the business world, “Members of these teams must quickly identify important problems, gather useful information related to the problems they identify, use this information to solve the problems, and then communicate the solutions to others.” (pp. 26-27)

Sound like a call for problem-based curricula? It does to me.

Our current standards movement and high-stakes accountability programs have not, do not, and will not move the majority of classrooms in the United States in the direction of problem solving / problem-based curricula. If you doubt me, visit several public classrooms in your local area. Even better, when you are there find time to talk frankly with the teachers working in these schools. Evidence supporting this contention is remarkably and sadly easy to find.

Leu and Kinzer go on to point out a stark contradiction which exists between predominant trends in the current business and educational arenas. While businesses for years now have been restructuring, downsizing, and empowering teams of employees at lower levels to have input in shaping policies and practices, the opposite has been taking place in education. “Instead of allowing teachers and local building teams to determine strategies for achieving instructional goals, for example, politicians at state and national levels in many nations are often determining the manner in which literacy instruction will take place. It seems that whereas economic units in many nations are moving from centralized, top-down structures for decision making, schools are moving in exactly the opposite direction: to state and national standards that reflect increasingly regulatory requirements.” (p. 28)

As a teacher, I regard myself as a creative artist– a knowledge architect for the students in my care as well as for myself as a lifelong learner. One of the most important things I value in my own educational environment is trust and autonomy: the willingness and faith on the part of my administration to trust me to make appropriate and effective instructional/pedagogical decisions for my class as a whole as well as individual students within it. This is a primary reason I have absolutely LOVED teaching graduate/undergraduate courses for the past two quarters at Wayland Baptist University in Lubbock. I have been empowered to craft and sculpt my curriculum to fit the needs of students as well as the educational and technological resources presently available.

My message here is for legislators: at the local, state, and national levels. GET OUT OF MY CLASSROOM. AND GET OUT OF THE CLASSROOMS OF MY STUDENTS. If we are ineffective and poor instructional leaders and teachers, then by all means fire us. But if not, please get out of our way and let us teach. And don’t deceive yourselves (as so many are now in the habit of doing) by thinking that the scores of my students on standardized assessments are the only measuring sticks of educational excellence and success worth considering. Neither I nor the parents and students I serve have time or patience for such a short-sighted, narrow, 19th century viewpoint.

We need educational deregulation, and we need it now. What is the consequence of inaction? More students going to private schools, more students being home schooled. Those trends are fine, those parents and students are voting on this issue with their feet, as they should (and do) have the freedom to in the USA. But we cannot turn our backs on the millions of public school children who cannot make a similar choice. For better or for worse, they are stuck with public education as their only viable educational alternative. And we had better make that not just an ADEQUATE choice, but a REMARKABLE choice.

How can we do this? Let’s start by getting the government out of our classrooms. Is this a radical idea? In today’s political culture, absolutely. But let’s remember what George Bernard Shaw wrote in Maxims for Revolutionists: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

We need more teachers, parents, and vocal community advocates for children to become a lot more UNREASONABLE. It’s time to deregulate public education in the U.S.

Additional note: It is important to recognize I am NOT advocating here an end to quality teaching standards and requisite teacher education programs and licensure. Far from it. What I am advocating in the context of “educational deregulation” is an end to the mandated standards movement which has swept over educational circles in the last 10-20 years and is offered as a bitter and unfulfilling manna to improve educational quality and cure ills which plague our schools. We don’t need more tests, more time for testing, and more educational standards to improve educational quality. What we DO need are highly skilled, literate and passionate teachers in our classrooms empowered to be the knowledge architects of their domain for themselves and their students. When teachers fail in their willingness and/or ability to serve in this role, we need administrators who are empowered to get rid of those teachers, rather than allowing them to punish yet more classes of students with instruction that fails to engage, motivate, inspire and transform them into the literate, critical and creative netizens our society desperately needs.

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4 Responses to Advocating for educational deregulation!

  1. Very well said. I often refer to good teachers as artisans. They are creatively crafting students who will not only be productive in their adult lives, but productive with style.

    We’ve spent to much time and effort forcing teachers to work harder. We need to empower teachers to work better. Good educators know what their job is. They have standards, vision, and dedication. Empowered with the resources and time (that’s a big one) to succeed by their standards will produce citizens ready to not only adapt to a time of rapid change, but leverage change to make a better time and place.

    2¢ worth.

  2. […] Wesley Fryer (a Texas educator you should keep your eyes on) wrote a powerful blog entry several days ago. He is Advocating for Educational Deregulation!. Fryer discusses the primary text of his current (and final) course in his doctoral program. The text is Integrating Multiple Literacies in K-8 Classrooms, and he addresses the chapter, Toward a Theoretical Framework of New Literacies on Internet: Central Principles (authored by Donald Leu and Charles Kinzer). Wesley paraphrases… …the definition of literacy is dynamic, and in order to remain relevant, educators at all levels must begin (or continue) to study, understand, and utilize the wide variety of multimedia as well as text-based communicative mediums available inside and outside the classroom to help students become successful 21st century communicators and netizens. […]

  3. Wesley Fryer says:

    I think so much of the stress and challenge of teaching in public schools today comes down to issues of time and curriculum. The farther we go in this “information age,” the more apparent it will become to all stakeholders that teachers simply can’t teach it all– with or without “quality.” We have got to let go of a lot of our curriculum that we are mercilessly trying to force-feed down the throats of students, and provide the TIME that is required for authentic, critical thinking. As John Holt noted in “Why Children Fail” back in the 1950s, generally students and teachers are too time-pressured during classtime for anyone to do any sincere critical thinking. We need inventive, creative thinkers in this brave new network economy, and I do not think our public school systems in general are adequately preparing students for their futures.

  4. […] My posts from July 11th and August 16th advocating for “educational deregulation” touch on these issues, as does my podcast from December 31st. If you read many entries in my blog or listen to my podcast, you know I am a vocal advocate for digital literacy– I share much of the passion and endgame desires of both Doug Johnson and Don Knezek. My differences with both of them, however, are based primarily on MEANS rather than ENDS. […]

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