I’ve written before about the importance of “getting sober“ about what schools can do. Schools are places where students learn to do important things they otherwise would not be able to do. Students learn to read and write; to paint; to play sports; to become numerate; to debate; to form argument, use evidence, and join important academic conversations. Schools do all these things and more. We should be collectively proud; despite all their failings, the outcomes of schooling rival any other important social enterprise.
Yet, the the current narrative goes something like this: schools are trapped in the 20th century and need to embrace the future. They need disrupting. Throw out the old playbook. Let the streets run red with the blood of the sacred cows of schooling.
Doubt me? How much effort has been expended on coding in schools?
Granting the differences in aesthetics, and the discussion of “growth mindsets,” what are the fundamental differences between the coding craze of the 21st century and this from the 20th?
Disruption Thus Far: What Have The Results Been?
Hard to say, but let’s look at one aspect of futurizing education that we were told would revolutionize schooling: online learning, especially through large-scale, sometimes free MOOCs. The results have been awful: students performed less well in MOOCs than in traditional classrooms. And MOOCs seem to be especially hard on students who struggle with traditional classrooms. As I’ve written before, one of the largest studies found that roughly five percent of students completed such online courses.
Of course, schools can and should explore ways to improve practice. We should, as Atul Gawande says of medicine, we should look for ‘positive deviants‘ – teachers and schools that achieve more than the average – to learn what works and scale it up. But surely that is where progress is to be made: keeping what works, improving what doesn’t, and slowly ensuring a greater quality of education for all.
And let’s remember the negative connotations of the word “disrupt,” as well as the commercial interests involved in that project of “throwing into disorder” a schooling system that has better reliability than the industry trying to remodel it.