Saturday, July 9, 2016

Week Five Reading Critique: Moving Past Fear

It has been an interesting week in America--and a tragic one.  As I reflect upon the course readings, it occurs to me how very much our entire culture has shifted away from hope and toward fear.  Several weeks ago, I had the privilege to speak at an education conference.  As so often occurs at conferences, the speakers enjoy a pre-conference dinner and the conversation shifts to the various themes each of us will explore.  As educators and innovators, the group I was with lamented that we have so many possibilities and yet in our schools, we are so often discouraged from even attempting to maneuver away from very traditional ways of doing things.

One educator, and a coordinator for the entire conference stated, "My district is light years away from adopting any of these practices."

And then I recalled what a district leader in my own district had said to a group of principals, "This district can absolutely do nothing for the next 3-5 years and it will not jeopardize our accredited with distinction status at all."

As I was sitting with my fellow presenters, it occurred to me, we have all begun operating from a position of deep fear.  We fear rocking the boat.  We fear a negative evaluation. We fear engaging deeply in innovation and design thinking.  We fear change.  It is simply easier to maintain the status quo than to explore anything new even though it has profound possibilities for expanding our ability to share understanding and to re-conceptualize our work in new contexts.

This is shameful.

I read each of this week's readings and as I was reading, I could hear the voices of the status quo ring in my ears:

"But, if students do this, they my be exposed to information the district has not approved."
"We cannot take on this kind of liability."
"What if parents complain?"
"Parents will object to this."
"We'll lose control of the scope and sequence."
"Our system is not set up for this."
"Our teachers/staff/IT department cannot support it."
"This violates our curriculum review policy."
"This is not in the standards."
"We don't have time for this....we have to use every waking minute to prepare for PARCC!"

And, I wondered how we are ever going to open the schoolhouse doors and trust that our students and staff can 'manage' the ambiguity that is the world we live in today.  The old paradigm has become less and less responsive to what our students are facing and yet, within our schools, there are few acceptable structures to even have the conversations.  This seems counter intuitive to what our schools should be doing.

So, in our school, we will be engaging in the Dear Future President exercise--and truly engaging in the political process, debating each other, engaging in a meaningful conversation and discovering what it means to be a participant in the process.  Because until we are fully engaged participants, we are not fully engaged citizens.  And this week, in America, it seems to me that we need to use every space we have, whether it is in a brick and mortar building, a public street or a digital condensed context, we must start engaging, conversing, and creating meaning for our lives which constructs mutual understanding and cultural awareness of the very different lives we each experience.

So, while this may be less of a reading critique this week--and maybe a critical commentary on the general state of our world--as educators, don't we have a responsibility to propel our students forward with courage rather than to operate from positions of fear and self-protection?  It seems to me that we do.

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