Monday, May 25, 2009

Why Should Your District Continue?

Ben Grey had an interesting post recently where he asked:
Why should your district continue to use and pursue technology?
I think it's the wrong question, albeit asked for the right reasons and it certainly is generating some interesting discussion. So I left a comment on Ben’s post and suggested two different questions that I think are more interesting (to me, at least, we’ll see if they are to you).

First question:
Why learn?
I think a discussion around this question might ultimately help with what Ben was trying to get at.

The second question, and really the reason I decided to post this on my blog, simply removes the last five words from his question.
Why should your district continue?
I think this is a much more interesting question, and one that I’m not asking lightly. I think we need to go back to first principles - or perhaps first “principals” :-)
Why do we exist as an institution?
I’d like you to pretend for a moment that you live in an alternate reality, one where right now, for the first time, someone is proposing universal schooling for all children between the ages of five and eighteen. Now, pitch me your proposal for your school district (or, for folks not in a school district, for your institution). Justify your existence. Tell me what your mission is, and why your institution (as constructed in our current reality) is the best solution to achieve that mission.

If you were starting your school right now, from scratch, would you? Or would your solution look very different?

I think your answer is very important. Don’t you?


  1. This is a really important question. I would argue it is extremely timely as well. As we see district across this country taking on a new tune of fire everyone and rehire who we want in efforts to create change. It tempts you into thinking, at first glance, "yea! Clean slate! Let's do this!" But is it a clean slate? How are they making the choices of who to keep and who to let go in these situations? My obserations are showing me the decisions are poorly made and based on the wrong ideology of what education should be about. This is why your question is needed and SO timely.

    Your description of starting from the ground up is critical now- this is where our heads need to be in education. Whose heads are here? How do we create a critical mass to actually begin again anew?

  2. Mine would be a middle school or high school. I would start with a high-powered webserver, a laptop or netbook for every child, a high-quality printer, and a store-front classroom with a well-equipped science lab, a lounge, a movement lab (yoga/dance/martial arts), workspaces, and a gallery at the front. In other words, I'd give kids access to the world, and I'd make the school permeable to the larger world by placing downtown right outside the front door. And their work would be visible at the front of the school, all the time.

    We'd have ten subjects instead of five: Western Humanities (English Language and grammar, Spanish and one other Romance Language), Eastern Humanities (Chinese, Chinese characters, literature & grammar), Mathematics, World Culture, Art, Music, Biology, Physics/Chemistry, Computer Programming, and Body (health, sex, athletics).

    Each 'classroom' would have a guide, whose job would be partly as a teacher, an administrator and as a social networker. Her job would be to connect students in her space with competent adults in chosen fields, help assess students' abilities, schedule group programming, and schedule labtime for other 'schools' in the same system within her 'school's' laboratory.

    The 'campus bounds' would be set as a neighborhood line, and kids would be able to travel through that area on errands, on drawing and interviewing assignments. All school work would end with public projects, either visible as written work on the school website, or as physical art in the school windows, or a concert/recital in the gallery.

    Every two to four years, the students would work at the direction of a general contractor, electrician, plumber and architect to redesign and rebuild their space.

    To graduate, a student would need to demonstrate spoken proficiency in three languages, writing in two, mathematics through trigonometry, drawing, a musical instrument, completion of a long-term science project, and a successful computer program.

    There would be no grades.