Twitter the whales. That’s what you do when they are left out of the curriculum. At least that is what connected parents are doing.
A recent Washington Post article described how tech-savvy parents across the country are forcing school boards and superintendents and principals to knuckle under to their avalanche of Twitters, texts, e-mails and blogs demanding their local flavor of change. I read about it on Dangerously Irrelevant (one of my sources of professional reflection) and found the gleeful comments of fellow readers surprising. As if school leaders don’t have enough of a mountain to climb now they have to brace for a Twitter campaign to deliver the community’s “no confidence” vote. The anonymous nature of these tools creates some real ethical challenges for school leaders pushing hard on organizational change. (How do most people respond to unsigned complaint letters?)
The blog drew favorable comments from parents and university educators who seemed to regard this development as a final tipping point in finally straightening out those screwed up public schools. I thought it was interesting for different reasons: perhaps tech-savvy parents can now hold universities accountable too.
For better or worse our universities have long served as the R&D branch of public education. Published scholars in our post-secondary schools of education emerge as the industry experts. K-12 educators worship at the altars of countless consultants and college professors and attribute the weight of the Gospel to their words. And that would be ok if it wasn’t for the fact that when it actually comes to teaching and learning… the very last place to go to find the expert practitioners of effective pedagogy would be a college classroom!
For example: this week I was asking Kira about her Marine Biology class. Although her college is 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean, they will not once visit the tidepools or watch the annual migration of the gray whales or stop by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography or even go to Sea World. She has one class in a “lecture hall” where 150 students passively take notes from a “professor” inculcating his world view with the help of last year’s powerpoint. Not very enlightened. I wonder who I can Twitter about that.
Then Keenan has a class at San Diego State that requires students to go on-line for many of the lessons. It is very economical in that it saves everybody from having to show up for class… but adds to students’ stress (and expense) as they attempt to navigate the idiosyncrasies of another professor’s poorly designed website. And what do they get when they finally break past the bonds of clumsy technology: a talking-head video of– you guessed it– last year’s powerpoint. Or text they could have just Googled.
Aren’t these university professors–these giants of the trade– reading their colleague’s stuff. Marzano? Bloom? Gardner? Freire? Cooperative learning? Gradual Release? Are you kidding me? Why aren’t they teaching each other?
An unfair generalization? No doubt. Of course there are extraordinary teachers in the university system and some schools have a lot more of them than others. But if we are going to paint public education with such a broad brush at the K-12 level, it applies all the more in our universities in whom we trust the preparation of future teachers and leaders.
The tail is wagging the dog. Americans intent on promoting school reform would do well to shift their gaze from the university system to the real experts in teaching and learning: those high performing elementary school educators who engender extraordinary academic results in spite of challenging environmental factors, in spite of an upside down school system, in spite of the perception that public schools need to be “reformed”, and in spite of the continued reverence for bad teaching that is too often modeled by university-based “experts” that they turn to for answers. The real experts, it seems, reside in places like El Milagro.
Maybe engaging all these parents and community-members who are technologically connected and bent on improving instruction in their children’s schools is not a bad idea. If it works at the local high school, surely it will work at the university too.
So let’s Twitter the school’s president and get Kira an audience with the great gray whales.