The World Is Flat has raised the bar for those of us who plan to one day lead a school or a district through the first quarter of the 21st century. Our failure to build a better system will result in the certain demise of American education and, as collateral damage, the economic future of America.
So how do we begin to change the educational system in America? How can what we (schools) do to reflect what is needed? How can we (the educators and leaders) take advantage of the ever flattening world? I offer five idealistic, and maybe naive, propositions.
1. Replace existing local and state high school math and science curricula and assessments with “International” cirricula and assessments and mandate Biology, Chemistry, and Physics. Our students will be studying and working in a collaborative and connected world that will require more science, math, and engineering degrees. Internationally, science and math curricula are pretty standard – there is no “American Algebra”. It is possible that our students’ exposure to the widely accepted international standards and assessments of physics, calculus, chemistry, and engineering would be of greater benefit than any local standards or assessments. We may begin this endeavour by becoming a part of the International Baccalaureate Program.
2. Marry our high school to other schools in Europe, Asia, India, Australia, and the Middle East. We can provide our students exposure to a wide range of cultures, and cultural nuances, if we connect our school to other schools in the world. We could, conceivably, interact on a regular basis with the global classroom; other teachers and students from the world could connect directly with our students, teachers, and classrooms. Discourse regarding international issues, technology, politics, and news events would be greatly enhanced.
3. Provide each student with free, powerful, and consistent wireless connectivity, personal laptops, and e-readers. These are the tools of the learning trade. No more will I ask for the purchasing of hefty, underused, and consumable textbooks. Our students will be using the latest e-readers; textbooks will become more accessible, convenient, and easy to decode. Their laptops will be open-source based; students will be able to learn and contribute to the open-source network while having a laptop free of cluttering and expensive software and gadgets. Needless to say, the schools will be completely wireless (on an open network) with the fastest broadband speed available.
4. Embed technology into the pedagogy. No longer should we simply “use” the latest technological tools in our classrooms, rather the tools must become the standard – embedded in our practice. The best way to do this is assess each prospective teacher’s technological abilities and knowledge and their incorporation of that knowledge in their pedagogy. Bottom line: hire Millenials who understand the new learning.
5. Change the courses of elective study in our high school. American Zippies are demanding more relevant and meaningful elective classes from knowledgeable and “connected” instructors. Courses like HTML, International Law, Flat World Economics, Collaborative Technology Applications, Ethical Business Practices, and Virtual Learning courses must be implemented. Our students are craving these types of 21st century classes.
Dr. Richard Bozza was my instructor for a class called “Curriculum Design” during my master’s program. He was a former Superintendent and a very wise man – maybe one of the two best teachers I have ever had. He introduced me to educational rebels like Alfie Kohn and Kozol. One of Dr. Bozza’s closing statements during our last class session was something like this, We [American education] have been driving the same train for the last one hundred years. The train is maybe faster, more powerful – but it’s on the same track, going in the same direction. Sure, new ideas and reforms have come along, but they essentially are just “hitched” onto the train. You would have thought we would be flying by now; moving and mobile, not tied to a track, able to move freely and with speed. So, you must decide as a future leader – will the changes you make fly your schools in a sleek, new, fast, and powerful shuttle, or will your changes simply add another caboose to this same, old, slow, gasping, chugging train?
So, as aspiring leaders, will we say to our faculty, students, and parents “All aboard!” or will we say, “Prepare for lift-off”?