In creating such a system, today’s educators go back to the best of our roots in the earliest teachers who understood that learning occurs in many spaces, from caves to campfires to watering holes. The tools we use and the curriculum we learn shift across time.
However, to accomplish learning in today’s world teachers and their learners must use a continuum of old and new technology tools to design, build, create, make, and engineer learning. Neuroscience research is clear that engagement of the mind does not happen when forced to sit in rows, facing a dominant teaching wall, and rooted in space and time by the “cells and bells” model of the twentieth century. Today we know that this compliance‐driven teaching favored some, left some behind, and drove many out of our schools, regardless of compulsory education. The history is clear. Schools of the twentieth century were designed to fail students. The current need is apparent. Schools of the twenty‐first century must be designed so that all succeed.
What education has done literally to almost all kids now, everywhere across the country, is communicate through its structures that if a learner can’t do the work in class, we’ll give that student twice the amount of English and math in a school day, more by far any other content area, which includes science and social studies – and particularly any sort of art or physical education. That’s called double blocking. Kids in remedial classes find themselves doing twice as many worksheets, listening to twice as many lectures, and taking twice as many tests because a single block of math and/or reading didn’t work. So, once again, educators double down on compliance‐driven schooling. That’s the design of the institution – it’s not conspiratorial. This exists publicly as the strategy of choice if a student is struggling in school. Significant literature and historical research document how and why this was set in motion a long time ago. President Woodrow Wilson (Wilson 1909) and then Ellwood Cubberley (Cubberley 1919) from Stanford both basically said in the early twentieth century that we only need a small group of people to get a liberal education, and a much bigger group to forego the privilege of a liberal education. Unfortunately, for many people today that’s still okay. But it’s not okay with us.
The district mission to create an inclusive community of learners and learning is no longer limited to just what we do in our own schools, but rather has expanded to influence equity and access beyond our schools. This has occurred through purposeful connectivity of our educators and learners with others across our district’s 25 schools as well as to other states and even countries. Our efforts are different and unique here because educators are working to convert a public school system that over years and years wasn’t designed for what we are doing now to empower children. We’re working – against rules and excuses – to convert an institution to a progressive model of education grounded in an “all means all” philosophy when it comes to every child participating in rich, experiential learning.
The evolution of learning culture is the most critical work educators need to do inside schools today. Culture reflects community values and school culture remains a relatively compliance‐driven system even with our best efforts to change that. The only way to change culture is to constantly create situations in which people together respond to the question “Why are we here?”
Sadly though, the social, political, and economic narrative of schooling in the past has been grounded in a “soft eugenics” belief that while some children have the capacity to become whatever they choose to be in life, others do not. This plays out in the decisions that educators make, often based on decontextualized data and confirmation biases that stem from immersion in traditions of education that did the same to us. Even if lip service is given to words such as equity, accessibility, inclusivity, empathy, cultural responsiveness, and connected relationships, schooling today is still far more likely to support practices from the past that have created school cultures in which none of those words define who educators really are, no matter what they aspire to be.
Consider how the “habitable world” concept developed by Rosemarie Garland‐Thomson, Emory University researcher and professor, sits at the core of the philosophy of educators who developed and now sustain the structures and processes of schooling that impact young people such as Kolion (Garland‐Thomson 2017b). Garland‐Thomson views public, political, and organizational philosophy as representative of one of “two forms of world‐building, inclusive and eugenic” (Garland‐Thomson 2017a). Unfortunately, often it’s the soft educational eugenics philosophy that is most often expressed in practice, if not in words, across the nation’s schools rather than the creation of habitable worlds that are inclusive of all learners.
If we want our schools to be learning spaces that reveal the strengths of children to us, we have to create a bandwidth of opportunities that do so. That means making decisions differently, decisions driven from values that support equity, accessibility, inclusivity, empathy, cultural responsiveness, and connected relationships inside the ecosystem. Those are the words representative of habitable worlds, not words such as sort, select, remediate, suspend, or fail.
The solution, the way decisions are best made, lies in empowering teachers and students to make choices. Any systemic or institutional decision made for “all kids” or “most kids” or based on quantitative research will – guaranteed – be the wrong decision. Any decision based in “miracle narratives” will be at least as bad. We are not discussing “the average child” or “the average dyslexic” (neither of which exists), nor are we going to base policy on the exceptional case. Instead, we will “solve this” by making individual decisions with individual students. (Socol 2008)
Creating paths to equity and access for all children remains the grand challenge of public education in America.
Equity provides resources so that educators can see all our children’s strengths. Access provides our children with the chance to show us who they are and what they can do. Empathy allows us to see children as children, even teens who may face all the challenges that poverty and other risk factors create. Inclusivity creates a welcoming culture of care so that no one feels outside the community.
One of the things we found when we converted all our summer schools into maker camps—realizing summer school accomplishes almost nothing for anybody when its done traditionally because doubling down on what didn’t work all year rarely has a successful end to it— … a whole group of kids who never found success before found it and ran with it.
With cardboard and the little blades they make for saber saws…, kids can build anything.
Ed-tech is a parade of equity illiterate fads.
When we fix injustice instead of kids, we arrive at something timeless.