The Stone Age did not end because they ran out of stones

I’m on vacation this week visiting family and one of my big plans was to workout everyday – run one day, lift the next, and so on. Unfortunately, I injured my foot last week and like most men over 40, I chose to ignore it. I had a plan and an injured foot did not fit in. Two days ago, I decided my foot felt good enough to run. Again, I chose to ignore the pain and figured it would just go away. Four miles later I had an inkling that I might be wrong. Yesterday when I woke up, I could no longer ignore it – I could barely walk.

After a thorough examination by Google doctor, we decided I had a severe case of plantar fasciitis. In my search, I also found a cure – an interesting article about a miracle for plantar fasciitis – the Strassburg Sock. I happened to find a high-end running store nearby that carried the Sock and so I bought it (I must admit I was a bit skeptical, probably as you are now – however, the testimonials by the professional athletes were impressive). It’s an odd device – you wear it while you sleep and in the morning, voila. And so I did. And it worked. It was kind-of miraculous. I was at least 80% better this morning … so I went running. No, actually I didn’t but I secretly wanted to.

Education reform has been claiming the Strassburg Sock for some time. High expectations, accountability, more time on task, and data driven instruction are some of the key fabrics of this sock. Of course, when the reform is explained, we are reassured that this fabric has been nurtured in labs that infuse it with lots of STEM and critical thinking skills. The irony is that public education in this country has been in crisis for a long time and continues to fall further and further behind in the world. And the insanity is that the reforms have essentially stayed the same – and for some reason we expect different results.

Tony Wagner in his profound book, “The Global Achievement Gap” (it’s way more earth-shaking than it sounds), challenges us to reconsider the problem. In fact, the book begins with a quote from Einstein, “The formulation of the problem is often more important than the solution.” Our problem is not raising standardized test scores, which is basically what school has become (some will disagree with this statement, but I challenge you to think about what’s hidden in the details of creating ‘strong basic skills’ – I would also challenge you to read Tony’s book or spend time at a school like ours). Urban education looks to suburban education as the model. But the best suburban schools are just creating super test takers – not critical and creative thinkers. And their affluent families have much more to do with their future success than the education they received. Urban education is modeling itself on suburban schools – and still doing a horrible job at closing the test score gap between them and their suburban counterparts. And that’s not even the right problem to solve.

One caveat – I taught for 15 years in one of these broken urban schools. Many of my friends continue to teach in these impossible situations. There are many amazing teachers that are doing amazing work in spite of the system. Human beings are creative and curious by nature so there is always good work going on in schools – not because of the school, but just because kids and adults are working together. But what if schools were designed so students could explore, not just retain, question, not just memorize, challenge, not just comply? Think and investigate, inquire and test, build and fail, and fix and try again – what if school rewarded curiosity – what would that look like?

Let’s rethink school so that it draws on the creative nature of children’s minds, connects them to their passions, and challenges them to solve real problems and do real work in this world now. It’s time to leave the Stone Age of Education.