we’ve reached the point in our (disparate) cultural adaptation to computing and communication technology that the younger technical generations are so empowered they are impatient and ready to jettison institutions most of the rest of us tend to think of as essential, central, even immortal. They are ready to dump our schools.
It is about honesty. It is about being truthful to our students about the flaws of our educational system. It is essential that we open a dialogue with our children to help them design their educational processes. Together we can do more than simply patch the existing system, and we need to do it soon.
The future is in good hands
It is one thing to create change inside a classroom -- the best teachers, masters of their one-room domains, break from tradition and foster innovative learning environments all the time. A harder task, which a growing number of schools are proving can be done, is to convert an entire school to embrace new practices that fulfill the changing educational demands of our age. Then comes the next -- and the messiest -- frontier, the entity most resistant to cohesive change: the school district.
Five years ago, administrators in the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township, in the northeast corner of Indianapolis, tackled this challenge. With a $5.9 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, a local philanthropic organization, they set out to transform the prevailing vision of what preK-12 education is for -- as one district official put it, "to meet the needs of the kids' future, and not the teachers' past."
They decided that they needed to teach a modern set of skills in a student-centered way. Critical thinking, self-direction, and cultural competency, along with fluency in technology, information resources, and visual and graphic presentations. These were the elements of digital age literacy the district believed its students would need in the twenty-first century. Educating students for the new era demanded not only new content, they believed, but also new teaching methods. Teachers needed to recast themselves as facilitators, and to demand that students take more ownership of their learning.
Visit classrooms in Lawrence Township -- at least those where the change has caught on -- and you'll see kids inventing their own projects, using computers in daily work, involving themselves in community initiatives, and inquiring on their own about
continued . . .
This article was also published in Edutopia Magazine, June 2007