Sunday, June 28, 2009

Relics of the Past

I am sitting in a hallway on the third floor of the Washington Convention Center. I'm at the 30th annual meeting of the NECC along with a few thousand of my best friends.

The opening salvo -- the orientation presentation -- actually became an SRO affair, adding yet one more acronym to this NECC/ISTE ed tech mélange.

In this long hallway there's an exhibition I took in over a few spare minutes. It's a collection of old computers and techware; everything from a sweet old Apple SE to a how-to guide for managing a Windows NE server to an Atari 400 that my own kids would still just about die for.

The not-to-discreet title of the exhibit is: Relics of the Past.

It's funny because I was thinking of exactly this sort of thing on the way into town today. But not in terms of old hardware.

I was thinking in terms of the relics of an old way of thinking. An old way of going about business. An old way of thinking about and using technology.

It's that old top-down approach. That us vs. them approach.

It's been around from time in memorial, but to some degree, I think we really have bowed to it in recent years in ways not seen since the time of the British Empire. And before that, Rome.

And look where it's gotten us: financial crisis, housing collapse, a completely whacked-out environment, continuous war, and a degradation of the entire concept of what education should be all about.

And folks are sick of it.

So they are taking things into their own hands.

Here in the US, we hired this guy to be president much on this notion that what we desperately needed was CHANGE. Even bankers and car company execs are admitting that we need CHANGE. Not to mention the scientists telling us we need CHANGE to deal with climate CHANGE.

And, though undervalued and crucially underestimated, we've got teachers and students saying we need CHANGE. They're dying to kick the vestiges of the past to the proverbial curb (but more responsibly being willing to stuff 'em into the recycling bin of history).

The old top-down methods of management and the us vs. them philosophy of fear have only helped to lead our public school system -- particularly in the most vital yet vulnerable areas of our country -- into failure. We've got school districts that look like failed states. We've got kids in teachers' classrooms for only a limited amount of time, and yet we watch as teachers are forced to waste weeks of learning time teaching kids how to take bubble tests. We tell kids that they aren't intelligent because they can't regurgitate information.

It's all about failure.

But this time, it's the old system that has failed.

Here in the excitement of NECC -- a conference whose most intrinsic qualities are its exuberance and audacity -- we need to push the final remnants of that way of thinking out the door.

Scratch that.

Don't push it out the door. Just put it in one of those display cases with the other relics of the past.

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