Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Real World and Real People

Real World and the Real World

When I was about 6 years old, I remember watching a show on TV called “Real People.” Byron Allen, Sarah Purcell and Fred Willard would make me and my family laugh and I still remember some of the colorful characters from all across America they showed to us. The supposed “Real People” where the show took it's name.   This show also was the first time America heard from Richard Simmons, that’s just trivia by the way. The show dealt with nothing in particular that was influential or meaningful, but it says something that a 6 year old remembers those names some 20 years later(OK more than 20).

 I begin with that diversion since today’s scramble to revolutionize education with technology, which the TU posts have touched on, looks right past the people in it. I don’t remember the names from my youth because they were associated with TV, I remember these people because of who they were and how they affected me. So imagine if you will a redesign of education discounts the significance of real people working in the field.

 Often in education circles power players and decision makers preach about preparing students with nebulous things like “life skills” and "digital citizenship." As fuzzy as these words are, most people have at least have an idea of what the terms mean. Defining and measuring them is the hard part. But to the skilled and experienced educator you just kind of know when a student goes out into the “real world” whether or not they are ready and whether or not they will be OK.

Years of reading wedding announcements and the court report in the newspaper have mostly supported my predictions about the fate of students.   To me and most other teachers our job is about more than data, lessons or content is people.  What has occurred with alarming frequency over the past few years is the arrival of the snake oil salesman in educators lives. These are characters(there is no better word for them) arrive from out there in the supposed real world and have leveraged their technical or business skill and savvy into a position within the education establishment.  Unlike those of us here already, they don't seem to care much about people.

Their first step is to talk about re-designing everything in schools for the real world. This is where a good teacher pauses and says things like, “What?” You see, we ARE in the real world. Too often their efforts to improve our educational world instead disrupt what is a carefully crafted environment.   I end up no longer doing my best and instead doing the best I can as a result of some additional burden or unhelpful shift.  They usually push some brand of pseudo-real world scientific approach.  Science instead of art in the classroom.  An approach I do not favor.

 Sure, they can bring in an idea that makes things better and sometimes do. I and everyone else welcomes such reform. But more common is their ability to alienate, demoralize and undermine talented and devoted educators. What I have seen first hand is the ability of these outsiders to group-think in isolation. They also tend to promote their ideas using the digital landscape.  They fail to gather or even value the insights of people who deal with students. That is unfortunate because those are the Real People in education. The same Real People that have been preparing students for the real world for years.

 Not all of these characters are bad.  Not all are good.  In that sense they are like teachers.  But they differ in the most critical of ways.  They don't think like a teacher.  They don't have the experience of working with students and lack the practical knowledge to understand how ideas translate to action and play out in a school.  They don't actually carry out any of these plans, they just constantly come up with more.  And most importantly they are not directly accountable to students, their parents or any sort of evaluation.  If things don't work out they just move on to the next town....I mean school system.

Appearance of movement over substance.  That sums it up.  Sacrificing deep relevant positive change for quick flash in the pan actionable shifts that appeal to the popular trends.  They aren't real people and that isn't real change.   Just a carefully crafted facsimile.  Some promote ideas, others products while others simply seek to gain access and tap into the last stream of public funding to succumb to privatization and for profit motives.  To them these are just untapped marketplaces for their new product, program, fad or idea.  Nevermind the impact it has on real people, there's money to be made and fame to be had.  Their efforts can divert critical resources away from classrooms and kids and the adverse effects are indeed real. 

Carl Jung said "Children are educated by what the grown up is, not what he says" and at the end of the day what makes real difference in education is real people.  The idea vendors will shove their wares down the throat of districts convincing them that it will yield immediate improvement.  If, or more often when, that doesn't happen, they disappear into night heading out to raid the next division coffers.  Leaving behind the Real People to continue their efforts to make a lasting and real difference.  If we want real and consequential change to be the cornerstone of the future of education it must indeed be centered around Real People. 

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