Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Fun They Had

Last night I attended a presentation for school board presidents and school superintendents in southeastern Wisconsin.  The evening consisted of two parts.  

First there was the presentation of a "white paper" from superintendents in our area.  The issue?  Public education as we know it is unsustainable.  School leaders are currently being forced to deconstruct schools one cut at a time.  Taxpayers are no longer willing to fund the current system.  Our delivery is outdated, designed at a time when assembly line manufacturing was the predominant career destination of youth and the school schedule was built around planting and harvesting.  These superintendents have decided to be part of redefining education in a bold, purposeful way.  And really, is there an alternative?
The second part of the evening featured a speaker by the name of Fred Bramante, senior member of the New Hampshire State Board of Education.  Mr Bramante is a compelling leader in educational reform and innovation.  Dramatic changes are occurring in New Hampshire due to his leadership.  (Click here to learn more about Fred Bramante.)
The superintendents and Mr. Bramante (and frankly, many others across the country) are challenging the idea that learning can only take place in the four walls of the school building, can only be delivered by a classroom teacher using a static textbook, and can only happen during specified daytime hours 180 days a year.  Their new paradigm would be achievement based instead of time based.  If a student shows competency measured by standards and has mastered the curriculum, could a student complete high school by 10th grade?  Yes.  Would we even have "grades" anymore?  Could a student on the basketball team get credit for physical education?  Yes.  Could a student take an online course and get credit?  Yes.  Could a student who goes abroad for the summer get credit in World Language or Social Studies?  Yes.  Could a student get credit in music for private piano lessons?  Yes.  Could a student get credit for volunteering in a hospital instead of taking "Intro to Health Care" in the classroom?  Yes.  It would no longer be about where and when the learning takes place - just that it does and a student can demonstrate competency in a subject area.  This shift puts the student and family in the driver's seat and transforms the teacher from deliverer of content to facilitator of learning.

The implications are seismic.  The conversation has already started.  School districts around the country are further along than Wisconsin in implementing these changes. 

I was telling all this to my educator husband when I came home last night.  He's a gifted, laid back teacher who rolls with every educational change that comes his way.  Almost without taking his eyes off his TV show, he simply said, "The Fun They Had."  


"The Fun They Had" was a short story written by great science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, in 1951.  Thanks to the internet, I found out the story takes place in the year 2157, where teaching is performed by robots with vast information stores and education is customized to each student.  Printed books no longer exist, but are read from a screen.  A brother and sister, Tommy and Margie, find an old book about school. Tommy, the older child, dismisses it as boring, while Margie is enthralled by the idea of human teachers and a special building dedicated to teaching where children would gather to learn.  The last line of the story?  "Margie was thinking about how the kids must have loved it in the old days.  She was thinking about the fun they had."

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