Navigating Uncertainty.

uncertainty (2)

Image shared on Flickr by Matt Curry

Change always starts with confusion; cherished interpretations must dissolve to make way for the new. Of course it’s scary to give up what we know, but the abyss is where newness lies.
Margaret Wheatley

Blame it on the rain (now sun). Blame it on #blc13. Blame it on David Weinberger’s book Too Big to Know.

But it is official: I feel uncertain about the future of education.

 Is Uncertainty the New Certainty?

I am uncertain about mark generation and our use of letter grades and percentages.
I am uncertain about top down prescribed siloed curricula.
I am uncertain of our report cards as representative of student learning.
I am uncertain of exactly what skills will best equip our students for their futures.
I am uncertain of our systems ability to adapt and evolve in a timely manner.
I am uncertain of our systems ability to provide a relevant and meaningful education to our students.

Yet. As a system, we continue to devote our limited energy towards maintaining a status quo of certainty
To evolve as a system do we have to embrace our collective uncertainties before we can experience meaningful systemic change?
For change to ripple throughout the system, do we need to let go of our facade of certainty to create a new status quo that embraces uncertainty?

relevance (2)

Image Shared on Flickr by Dean Shareski

Meanwhile

Our system’s exoskeleton sits propped up like a circus tent; the exterior imposingly large but inside vacuous and lacking life, sucked clean by how and where students are really learning. Our obsessive data collection (aka certainty) our primary propping mechanism. This mandated propping keeps us inside anchored and frozen in place. If we let go the tent will collapse, we inside trapped. In our pursuit to justify to ourselves and society that learning is in fact going on, we have inadvertently crushed, like insects, the potential for connected learning to occur.
Just, look at these grad rates–up! Look at these failures rates–less than one percent!
We are certain…so certain.
So certain in fact that we keep all our feedback loops dialed in on this status quo of certainty. Any new behaviors patterns squelched as they disrupt the system’s ability to maintain homeostasis; life of the system superseding innovation of the system.

Meanwhile

Here we stand. Education. Standing stubbornly on our hierarchical particle based shores; siloed groupings guarding their piles of sand even as the grains wash out to sea. Adamant and petulant in the certainty of ourselves.
Stand here! We will not venture into these unknown waters! We are right! Foot stomp. Arms crossed. We are!

Meanwhile.

Uncertainty grows and like the fog rolls in. We on the shore, trapped in “analysis paralysis”, growing ever more hesitant and fearful to launch into the uncharted dark waters.
BUT we can’t launch…now. We need more…more…data, more certainty. Produce it and THEN we will launch.

Meanwhile.

Classrooms remain centered around asking, teaching, memorizing Googlable factoids. The primary focus to provide “bits” of just in case certainty to students, who remain decidedly uncertain about the relevance. The message unspoken but loud:

You will get something interesting later on (when and if you deserve it) but first jump through these hoops. This is training for what REALLY matters (life, job, university)!  Later you will see why and how it matters; we are doing you a favour!  We are here to indoctrinate you into certainty. We are certain that all the facts in this book matter and all are relevant. Don’t venture beyond this book and you will be successful! Yes, we are certain this will be on the test. Yes, we are certain that if you miss class it will lower your mark. Yes the answer is B, look it up in the text-book! We are certain that if you fail here, you will also fail in life. 

Meanwhile

Students are holding massive garage sales, piling and reallocating the treasured chachkas of our siloed disciplines, only to have them sold off again for far less than we want to think possible (What do you mean you copied this!; What do you mean you want to use Google on the test?; What do you mean you didn’t do the 125 mark worksheet for homework?) Like trinkets we lug home from Mexico to proudly show to family and they awkwardly wonder to themselves: “Why the heck did you buy that?”  Our students are wondering the same: “Why the heck am I learning this, it’s worthless!?” In Mexico the trinkets WERE treasures, in context the knowledge was and is relevant.

Do our students have the context? Or any context for that matter?

engagement

Source: The Gallup Blog 

If disengagement is not measure enough, Eric Mazur (Dean of Applied Physics at Harvard) points to MIT research on nervous system activity during lectures as being the same as watching TV. In fact there is more activity during sleep! As Dewey pointed out in 1938:

There is, I think, no point in the philosophy of progressive education which is sounder than its emphasis upon the importance of the participation of the learner in the formation of the purposes which direct his activities in the learning process, just as there is no defect in traditional education greater than its failure to secure the active cooperation of the pupil in construction of the purposes involved in his studying.

Despite growing uncertainty about some things, I have gained certainty about others:

I am certain the students want to learn and have many topics they are deeply interested in.
I am certain that students are creative and need to create to understand who they are.
I am certain students want to have a voice about their learning.
I am certain students want to have a positive impact in their communities and their world
I am certain that many students with high grades have low or very little deeper understanding or love of the topic.
I am certain students with lower grades often times have a deeper understanding but are crushed by the triviality of factoid acquisition.
I am certain students want to be challenged.
I am certain students want to be mentored by people who care about them deeply as human beings
I am certain students want to be seen as individuals.
I am certain students want to feel connected; to their learning, to each other, to the world.
I am certain students want time, space and trust to make decisions about their learning for themselves.
I am certain students are capable with support and love of taking responsibility for their learning.

__________________________________________________

As we work together to restore hope to the future, we need to include a new and strange ally — our willingness to be disturbed. Our willingness to have our beliefs and ideas challenged by what others think. No one person or perspective can give us the answers we need to the problems of today. Paradoxically, we can only find those answers by admitting we don’t know. We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time.
Margaret Wheatley

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