Chris Walsh, in his post “Teaching to the Long Tail of the Flat World” writes:

Today’s one-size-fits all model of instruction will become increasingly diverse, because parents and students will demand it. Some believe that this will be a massive boost for private schools, charter schools, and home schooling. While more institutional flavors will be nice, the deeper cultural shift toward personalized services will require educators to invent entirely new schools that support truly individualized instruction. Today’s virtual schools are a test bed for digital learning platforms that deliver and track individualized student learning, and these tools will increasingly enable “traditional classrooms” to be more flexible – with less emphasis on seat time and more emphasis on real world application of learning outside the school walls.

I think Chris is right, but I wonder about the timeline. We have had “wired” schools for quite a few years now in many parts of the United States– the E-Rate program is about 10 years old now. But how much has typical teaching and learning in our schools changed? Not much, I would argue. Larry Cuban would agree, I think.

There are many components to these dynamics, and I am thrilled to read Chris’ suggestions focusing on teacher education programs. These ARE critical. But as I’ve heard others say (I think Miguel Guhlin) it is silly and unrealistic to think that the teachers with the least power in education (the least “positional” power)– the entry-level teachers, will be the ones who can bring about broad-scale change. My experiences for the past 5 years, working in the university teacher education environment, point to the fact that most teachers may learn to think creatively and design curriculum during their teacher-ed programs– but once they get into “the real classroom / real world,” they are generally co-oped by the system to teach to the test and stay on the district’s curriculum pacing guide. Creativity is rarely welcomed, compliance is not only expected but demanded by administrators.

That said, in the long run Chris’ ideas will prove accurate, I think. Generationally, we will see changes in the types of educational experiences that are most valued and encouraged in school– and these will become more interactive, more digital, and less didactic. There is no guarantee this will happen quickly in the short-term, however, anymore than there was a guarantee in a Marxist state that the dictatorship of the proletariat would dissolve away and a happy, benevolent government of self-regulating folks would emerge…..

I heartily agree with Chris’ observation that we need more creativity in teaching. He writes:

Lastly, we need to foster creativity in our teachers. In a world of rigid content standards and high-stakes testing, very few teachers are allowed to be creative, problem solvers. Teachers need to know that they can, and should, be actively involved in curriculum development. How else will they be able to service the unique needs of all our students?

The best hope I have heard about to date for the type of pedagogic change Chris is talking about here are the ideas of “The Schlechty Center” (Phil Schlechty) that I wrote about in the post, “Sea change in our educational culture.”

Teacher education is a very important part of this process, but just as important– and perhaps even more-so, are the legislative leadership and school leadership components. We have to help the digital immigrants who currently lead our school boards, our state legislatures, and our national Congress to understand this vision for authentic teaching and learning– this vision for educational ENGAGEMENT, rather than “sponge-based education.” Many political leaders believe the lie that the best role for a student is that of a thirsty sponge, and the best role for the teacher is that of a high-energy water faucet. The lie also holds that educational “success” is measured when the sponge is vigorously and frequently SQUEEZED to see how much of that water has been retained. Schools must get out of the water retention business, and recognize that what we want students to do is mix their own drinks. No, I’m not talking about alcohol here– I’m talking about creativity, and teachers designing learning environments where authentic engagement, out-of-the-box thinking, and the creation of knowledge products which reflect higher order thinking and DEEP levels of understanding are commonplace rather than rare, which they are today in many public schools.

We need differentiated instruction of the sort Chris has written about. Your kids deserve this type of learning environment, and and so do mine. They can’t wait fifty years for generational change to take hold. So we shouldn’t either.

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