10 October 2015

Most Likely to Succeed Film and Book

More than a half-dozen times now I have watched Brian's eyes light up with an I did it--I created something that works expression, and I have watched Samantha's confidence shine as the all female play she directs garners applause from an audience of family and community members. I have also watched Scout's father, film director Greg Whiteley, acknowledge his daughter's feelings that "this whole thing called school is B.S."

The compelling storyline in the film Most Likely to Succeed speaks to me as a parent, educator, and community member. I've sat in parent/teacher conferences not unlike the one Whiteley's daughter and wife endured and even once was told by an administrator that I should have my son read boring books at home so he would be better prepared to read the boring texts on the state standardized tests. More positively though, I have also observed the I created something and it works look in my son's eyes when he built a computer.

As pointed out in the beginning of Most Likely to Succeed, our education system was designed in 1893 by a Committee of Ten men who wanted more efficient, compliant, and educated factory workers for the industrial age. A standardized education system with a teacher who dispensed knowledge provided what the economy needed at the time and guaranteed workers "a perfectly average job, with a perfectly average family, a perfectly average home, and a perfectly average life, and a perfectly average funeral."

We no longer need as many factory workers because more and more jobs have become automated. We have knowledge at our finger tips as we consider access to the Internet a basic right in our developed country. We need students who can think critically, communicate effectively, solve problems creatively, and collaborate productively to make our world a better place. Most Likely to Succeed does not offer a panacea for the issues in public education, but it does open eyes and convey a sense of urgency needed if we are going to make sure kids receive the education they need in our ever changing world.

In addition to seeing the film multiple times, I have now also read Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith. I am encouraged, empowered, and more ready than ever to continue my personal and professional mission of
 re-imagining public education.

As Dintersmith and Wagner acknowledge in their book, we could have completely redesigned our education system, the position advocated by Ted Sizer founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, as we headed into the twenty-first century. Instead, our country chose to "push for incremental improvements and rely on policies calling for curriculum homogeneity, more pervasive standardized testing, and teacher accountability tied to student test score performance (26)."

Unfortunately, we are paying a price for this choice as "student and teacher engagement levels have plummeted in the face of a steady diet of test prep (27)." We've turned public education into a series of hoops to jump and games to play (just ask my 9th grader). The book is not all depressing though; the authors offer examples of how we can re-imagine school. Think about their suggestion of what we might consider as the purpose of education.
"The purpose of education is to engage students with their passions and growing sense of purpose, teach them critical skills needed for career and citizenship, and inspire them to do their very best to make their world better (44)."
If we decide this is our purpose, then we must respond as such and we must offer students--
choice, opportunities to learn from failure, lessons that require critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving. We must also teach students to communicate effectively both in writing and in speaking. I've written on this topic previously.

Dintersmith and Wagner don't stop their conversations with K-12. In fact, one entire section of the book is devoted to ideas about college degrees. They say they "don't subscribe to the view that a college needs to revolve around practical courses (169.)" Rather, they give college faculty, administration, students, and parents plenty to think about. As a liberal arts graduate, I was pleased with this perspective--
"Today, employers look for graduates who exhibit critical skills, ask great questions, and demonstrate perseverance and grit. These critical skills can be taught in traditional liberal arts pursuits as well or better than in business courses (170)."
Re-imagining public education has been on my mind for nearly as long as I've been out of college. It started in graduate school when I read works by Ted Sizer, John Dewey, Deborah Meier, John Goodlad, and Maxine Greene. I began teaching in a high needs school in North Carolina and committed myself to teaching with intentionality, even writing "purpose in instruction" at various places around the classroom as a reminder to myself to keep our studies, projects, and lessons meaningful.
Read about how I helped arrange Ted Dintersmith's visit to KY
I'm not alone either because I know dozens of committed teachers throughout the United States who work diligently inside our flawed system to provide students the deeper learning experiences they need. I also know parents who advocate for change and who work together on re-imagining the system. I'm optimistic about what we can do when we work together.

In the past nearly four years, I've used this blog as a place to share my voice about how we need to re-imagine curriculum, instruction, assessment, and the overall system. Blogging has connected me to others and taught me more about what we can do if we speak up and work together. We need to remember that all of our voices can have impact. We can, together, make a difference to bring the change we need in public education. We no longer live in 1893. We need a bottom-up approach led by teachers, students, and parents demanding change to the system.

I urge you to see the film and read the book Most Likely to Succeed because once you do I guarantee you'll be ready to join me.