"We are living a public life on a global stage, the ones who can express themselves best, will be heard." -Laura Hill Timpanaro, Artist, Author, Educator

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Opting Out Of A Broken System, Opting Into Life Learning

by Laura Hill

For the last few weeks the conversation in my district has been about opting out of standardized tests.  The reasons for and against opting out were made clear in a bombardment of information both from teachers and teacher’s unions, the district, local news, class moms using class lists to disseminate information and other parents.  By the end of the break I was exhausted and little perplexed, here’s why.

The conversation was not about my child’s education; it was about highly politicized education issues.

I decided to share with my children the pros and cons of the arguments for testing and for opting out. At 12 and 9 they began the process much like I did, with a clear idea of the direction they wanted to take. By the end of the process we had reversed our stand several times.  My daughters learned more about themselves from this exercise in deciphering political messaging, separating fact from propaganda and making an informed choice than they would learn from the results of the standardized assessment. 

What we are really doing is opting out of a broken system.

Education used to be a process in which basic skills were learned to create a level playing field that banished ignorance and created opportunity. As the education system grew in complexity with the increased need for workers and leaders in a newly industrialized economy the system changed to one that winnowed out those less likely to succeed and rewarded those who excelled. There was a place in society for everybody.  Today those values no longer hold true and the system no longer works.

In a world were the unique qualities of the individual are prized the old education system doesn’t work.

You can no longer take out last year’s lesson plan and try to retrofit it into educating today’s students. It is the technology sector that has ripped apart and revolutionized almost every segment of industry and cultural arts including mass media, finance, industry and now education. This is true for two reasons; the needs of the world have changed in both personal and economic sectors and the skills of the students have grown exponentially especially in the area of technology.

So how do you opt out of a broken system and into life learning?

Change often does not come easily but in this space in time it is increasingly evident that change in education is unavoidable.   Parents are increasingly aware of options in education and are using their voice to advocate for their children’s right to diversified, student centric learning environments.  Students are finding voice through technology and learning valuable, viable skills that work in global arenas without the help of the education system.  Governments and unions are being met with opposition and businesses whose models stress profiting off of students and student data are being opposed.  So where does that leave you as a teacher?

You can make this a time of uncertainty and fear or an opportunity to usher in a shiny new paradigm.

Recently, a friend told me there were two kinds of people, campers and hikers. Campers hold down the fort while hikers go out and explore new lands, bringing back with them new opportunities. As educators you have the opportunity now more than ever before to be hikers, and to bring the new ideas you find back to camp for the betterment of your scholastic environment and the education system as a whole. We see this everyday in online forums, PLNs and community groups but it isn’t enough.

To make change happen you need to have desire to make a difference and a place where ideas can grow and be put into action.

Teachers often stand alone, surrounded by people but isolated in the camp of their classroom.  It is a noble and lonely stance but it doesn’t have to be. As agents of change we can re-imagine a new system of education, creating forums where tools can be shared not just amongst teachers but also between teachers, students and parents around the world. We can forge a new alliance that keeps students from slipping through the cracks, brings in support from the community and ushers in a new age of student centric learning that will help grow real skills for a global age.This generation of children is going to develop some of the most amazing creations and bring on some of the most profound social changes ever conceived. You can choose to aid that effort or do nothing.

All it takes is one little step.

My daughters and I have taken one little step, now it’s time for you to show us that you echo our desire and support for a new education system by making changes in the classroom.  Stop teaching to the test, start working in teams to integrate technology, create a collaborative learning environment and engage my children in student centric learning that will help them become the leaders and dreamers of tomorrow.   We can’t do it without you and I won’t let my children become political footballs in an arena where student’s needs are ignored so unions, governments and big business can push their agendas.

You are not alone.

You are not alone in this. At #whatisschool we see hundreds of thousands of educators who desire to be agents of change, yet this is still a small percentage of educators worldwide who are striving to re-imagine school and the education system.  If fear holds you back consider this, you can camp and let unions, politics and business dictate how you will teach or you can hike and create a new education system that is destined to change rapidly whether you like it or not.  The real choice here is who will decide what education is to become.  I choose a coalition of teachers, parents and students working together to develop a system that is not based on profit but on the idea that together we can reshape the education system, and the world, to be a place of boundless discovery, creativity and learning.

I am not afraid.  I hope you will join me-Laura

Laura Hill is an author, illustrator, parent and the co-creator of #whatisschool, a global forum for connected educators re-imaging school and implementing strategies to make education a place of excitement and discovery for all students, teachers and parents.  Connect with like-minded educators and concerned persons by visiting www.whatisschool.org or contact Laura on twitter @candylandcaper or laurahillbooks@gmail.com


Read the books I write with my children.