For years, I have raged against the many limits of our traditional education system and our inability to truly reform, or even transform into something better or amazing. Whether it’s the pursuit of real world projects, better technology, or more rationale policies, education has always seemed, to me, to be out of step and ultimately behind the innovations and progress going on in the real world.
Naturally, this would not be a difficult thing to prove or demonstrate everyday in most of our schools in this country. We continue to put our students through a system that was designed decades ago with expectations, skills, activities and systems that are outdated and ineffective.
A few weeks ago, I had an epiphany. Sadly, it’s really a relatively simple one, but significant to me nonetheless. After my daily annihilation of our educational system, I realized that we are capable of greatness and higher quality in all that we do, but rarely, if ever, seem to be able to fully realize it in any capacity.
Take energy for example. We now have high quality technology allowing us to use solar energy as one of our primary energy sources. But do we? Of course we don’t. Sure, we have small percentages of homes, businesses and industries that are taking advantage of solar energy. But as a culture, we continue to build new homes, schools, government structures, and corporate buildings without solar energy systems installed.
Indeed, I was fortunate enough as an educational leader to open a new, high tech high school in 2008. But can you imagine that it was built without solar? Sure, our district could have put solar in afterwards as an addition. But, here, right in California, we built a $70 million school (small by most standards) without solar energy. Indeed, it was against state regulations to build a school with solar. We could only add solar later. Shouldn’t it be the opposite? In other words, we should not be able to build any school, new building or home without solar. We should mandate solar vs. mandate avoiding it.
I realized that we do this in all facets of our lives. In addition to solar energy or other alternate forms of energy, we have the technology today to have electric cars, or at least hybrid cars that get great gas mileage. Do we make either of these the standard? Again, of course not.
We relegate these to small, extreme sectors of our transportation culture. We dream of something different and continually tell ourselves things like “maybe in five years, or maybe 10 years from now.”
Think about our food and eating habits in our culture. One again, we now have the ability and the knowledge to produce high quality, nutritious food. But do we? No, we choose the short-term advantages (cost, ease) and trade them away for the long-terms rewards.
How about medical care? Again, our nation has the technology and ability to deliver high quality health care to all. But again, we don’t. Instead of focusing on preventative measures and being proactive, we relegate all of our health care to emergency care and walk-in clinics – or reactive care. Instead of investing in everything from early childhood nutrition to body scans for early disease detection, we take our standard route in our culture. We take the cheapest, easiest or most short-term approach – usually in order to save money – only to postpone that that cost to later at much greater implications in terms of money, health, wellness and success.
Think about our schools again for a minute. We have all the science in the world to know that all students would perform better and ultimately learn more if we had smaller classes, better technology for all, more equipment and better access to the real world. But we don’t pursue this direction. In addition to not wanting to change, we cannot get past the short-term implications (money, investing, technology, pedagogy) in order to gain those aforementioned long-term results.
So, where do we go from here? To me, as a nation or culture, we have to decide what we want. Do we want to settle for mediocrity or go for amazing? Will amazing be something that only exists in small, unique sub groups of our society and enjoyed by only a few who are brave enough, independent enough and fortunate enough to figure it all out?
It’s difficult to live in a nation that has such educational potential, but deploys a system that delivers such a sub-standard product. We all know that we could do better. But as we look at all our large systems – energy, transportation, food and health care – we realize that it’s really a larger cultural issue at play. We have to move from short-term to long-term. By the way, dozens of other countries in Asia and Western Europe have figured this out. We possess much more creativity, innovation and ingenuity that any of them, but have yet to apply these to transforming our education, energy, transportation, food or health care systems for the better.
I will not stop fighting for better (meaning different and more relevant) schools for our nation’s students. However, I will also realize that real change may never occur unless we address our culture deficiencies that keep greatness at bay.
(images courtesy of foter)