In defense of the Industrial-era model of education

I spent yesterday attending the Blue School’s fabulous Teaching Innovation conference, where everyone is rightly concerned with how to reimagine education for a changing world.

At a few different points, people spoke about how sad it was that we are working within a system that can’t do the sorts of things we now see are in the best interests of children: personalizing instruction, creating physical spaces that feel less institutional and more welcoming and respectful, and designing learning programs that help young people acquire the skills and dispositions that will be most useful to them as they negotiate their way through a world in which content knowledge is no longer the key to the kingdom — adaptability, compassion, and creativity are.

As I listened, it occurred to me that we need to cut the Industrial-era model some slack. When it was designed, a different set of questions needed to be answered, chief among them how to process an unprecedented number of young people through a system and into a job market was was largely predictable and known. Consequently, it makes sense that such a system would be anchored in the ideas of the factory line and the tabula rassa.

What’s sad is not that our old system can’t do these new things; it wasn’t designed to. What would be sad is if we don’t find the collective courage, capacity, and will to build a new system that is aligned for these new questions, and this new world. That work is just beginning, and it will take time.

Onward march.

 

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