As events in Wisconsin unfold, as I exchange emails with my congressmen pleading for additional funding for preschool and allowable growth . . . . the thought suddenly occurs to me. Is this horse about dead? Are we beating this educational sytem as it sinks ever closer to oblivion, looking to feed it the last dollars we can eke out of an economy that can no longer afford it? Some of the wisest words spoken in recent months regarding the plight of pk-12 education were by Senator Jack Kibbie of Emmetsburg, who stated to educators, "You need to re-invent yourselves. You had to do it during the farm crisis of the 80s and again during the recession of the 90s. There are 3 more years of this downturn and we will not raise taxes to pay for it. You need to re-invent yourselves again."
Jack is right. It may not get done in 3 years, but it is time to accelerate the process of re-inventing how we do things. Schools are bloated, personnel-heavy, behemoths in an age where lightning fast efficiency is the name of the game. As much as we may love the time-worn concept of herding our same-age students from room to room in order for us to teach at them or even learn with them, the inefficiencies and clumsiness of such a system demand that it be left behind.
Digital technologies make information instantly accessible to whomever and wherever we desire. Computerized management systems allow us to manage student records with little human intervention needed. Yes, facilitation is needed, but even in the isolated case of our school's flipped calculus class, we are seeing students working in a totally different environment than the traditional enclosed classroom.
When we loosen the strictures of time and place(classroom walls) newly found efficiencies suddenly emerge. How many calculus students can our calc teacher actually facilitate if 75% of his students only actually need to see him 10 minutes a day instead of the 60 minutes they've been coming in to hear him present the lesson? And, obviously, those students can be in his building, or in a building miles away, or in their own home.
So, today I'm thinking Jack is right. The old horse is about dead. We will never again be able to afford school as we have known it. Now we have to invent school that we can afford, using the technologies of the 21st century that will make it affordable. Thankfully, it will also be more appropriate and more in accordance with the way kids today prefer to learn.