In 2006 we advocated for community wide WiFi access in multiple states. In 2008 we helped launch 1:1 technology in over 22 countries. In 2010 we helped teachers and leaders on six continents understand that technology in education is not about route learning and skill/drill but about depth and production. Too bad all the good didn’t scale. In 2020 we sadly realized that few were really using technology. In fact we saw that most hadn’t even covered the minimal expectations of accessibility. We found ourselves dumbfounded that the hard work had not been universally tended to. Hard work that truly has one important beneficiary: our kids.
The hard work isn’t about huge, unattainable ideas. Hard work is about looking at the world in which our children live and being good stewards of their growth. Their growth as capable, empathetic humans in a world that can either be torn apart or empowered by the technology that surrounds us. Hard work is about finding the connection between what we know and growing through learning about what we do not.
I’m not sure where the wheels fell of the bus. I don’t know if it was misunderstandings about what technology is really for in education (hint: binge watching Netflix and You Tube is not it). I don’t know if we just became too app happy, grabbing for what is cool instead of what drives deep learning for our kids. I don’t know if we just got so overwhelmed with the politics of education in the United States that we lost our sense of duty. I don’t know if technology became the next hot potato that was all to easy to dismiss (fear is so much easier to ignite in others than understanding).
I wonder though if the way technology has been mishandled, hidden, disempowered, etc. is just one tangible example of our overall failure to create the schools our kids truly need (rather than the schools adults are cozy with).
I do know that it’s time for a comeuppance. It’s time for parents to stop focusing on test scores and it’s time for schools to stop relying on those scores to demonstrate value. It is time for us to decide what we want our world to be made of: those that are only capable of facts and figures or those who become doers and thinkers and makers (the later aren’t easily replaced by technology). It is time for us to find our humanity and our purpose.
We always tell our kids to not compare themselves to others yet that is what our education systems have become. Our schools feign excellence, our universities boast false claims, our states banter about commitment to children and boast efforts to develop a steady workforce. Through all of it there are comparisons. One child to another. One school to another. One college to another. Yet through all of it there is lacking expectation. When we can say we are the best with nothing but a number we have readied ourselves to being taken out. When we are beholden to a source of accountability rather then ourselves it weakens us (and nothing more).
Should we expect that our children flourish just because they go to school? Should we expect our home values to be maintained just because our kids pass tests? Should we nurture competition or confidence? Should we meet simple, tangible demands for equity (like we have done with technology) while we work on the hard stuff?
Education is still reeling from the slap in the face that came with COVID-19. Will education continue to manage the shortcomings that an unexpected virus shone a light on? Or will education lead and show our country what it is made of? We have innovators in every district that can lift this rock of mediocrity. Will they be silenced more or given a megaphone to rally real change?
Nothing good ever came from playing it safe, changing “just a little,” hiding or downplaying innovation so there is comfort, or lying about your purpose when your grandiose vision isn’t alive in practice. The managers will be the downfall of education; the true heroes of the deteriorating system of education that we currently live with complacently.
It is time for us to realize that we have failed our children with our inaction. It is time for us to look around and acknowledge what we are not doing for all children. It is time for a comeuppance in education.
If the work of education continues to be more about being right than doing right, our country will never be great again. I’m not okay with that.
Dr. Britten is a long time advocate, activist, and leader in education. You can follow her online at jodybritten.com