The “Let’s Change School” conversation came to the forefront again this week after a video collaboration between Ted Dintersmith and the rapper Prince Ea went viral.
As we write this, the video has been up for a little over 4 days, and between YouTube and Facebook, it has almost 10 million views and over 25,000 comments. We think that qualifies as viral.
Why would a video about the need to change school go viral?
Why is this particular video zooming around the Interwebs at warp speed? Is it the high production value? The captivating spoken poetry by a well followed You Tube talent? The cute kids? All of the above?
While those may be the most obvious answers, we’d like to add another one:
Because almost everyone can relate.
With the caveat that at moments the video is a bit hyperbolic, a little too self-serving, and tries too hard for that emotional response (a couple of my friends called it “icky”) – despite all that, which of the messages embedded in the video shock you?
Haven’t we already acknowledged that kids don’t have a ton of real life skills when they graduate from high school and that in general they forget most of what they “learn”? Don’t we already recognize that school is more or less a game kids play to see how many As they can collect and many only care about what’s on the test?
We already know that students are sleep deprived, stripped of their agency, and are forced to learn within the constraints of a power-imbalanced system. It’s the same system that puts precedence on long-held structures and policies over effective conditions for learning. We all hear the cries of our students who are anxious, depressed, and stressed. (And so are their teachers.)
We see schools that are driven by compliance and high-stakes assessments, yet we know that all sorts of amazingly complex, beautiful, meaningful things in this world were created by people who took vastly different educational paths than those offered to most of our children.
And so while not surprised by the content of this video, its message can certainly spark within us the need to act. To lead with courage.
That’s not all schools…
We know that schools have incredible value to our youth and the future of our society, and that teachers are powerfully important people in kids’ lives. So while we’ve been writing and speaking about these “viral” themes for years, we’ve also been to schools who have not only acknowledged what’s wrong with traditional systems of schooling, but they’ve acted to transform the learning experience for their kids. They’d listen to Prince Ea’s messages, yet be unable to identify such difficulties in their own schools.
So, what is school for?
The “What is School For?” question gets to the very heart of what we’re talking about in Change School and our Modern Learners Community (MLC). And what’s been cool to see is that we can have these hard conversations together in ways that lead to the types of changes that would render that video irrelevant. They are conversations about what real learning looks like, the gaps between what we believe and what we do in classrooms, our understanding of how the world is changing in all its many complex ways, and how we develop cultures of trust and fearlessness and innovation. We seek understanding and grapple with these existential questions in a safe online environment separate from the all the distraction and divisiveness that is social media.
We created Change School and MLC so we could go there together. So we could be guided by each other’s wisdom, experiences, struggles, successes. In Change School we stay connected to those heavy conversations over the long haul in ways that lead to big steps toward real change. We do more than take small incremental steps as suggested because…small steps aren’t enough for our kids. We can’t lose a generation of kids because of the pace of our change. The world will not wait.
Meet real school leaders doing real work to make their schools more relevant
We are inspired by what Change School alumni are doing.
Nipmuc High School, MA
John Clements and Mary Ann Moran and their team at Nipmuc High School have created a comprehensive roadmap for change. It’s a year of planned collaboration to determine their core values, beliefs about learning, and the future of learning at Nipmuc.
Springville-Griffith Institute, NY
SGI is making bold moves. Superintendent, Kim Moritz, Director of Technology, JoAnn DePue, and Board member, Allison Duwe, are committed to giving their learners permission to take risks and protection when mistakes happen, and the board is committed to removing barriers through policy reduction.
SGI’s well-produced video, Rethinking School at SGI, could also be a response to Prince Ea’s “What is School For?”
Elk Grove High School, IL
Mark Heintz is a Divisional Technology Coach and teacher at Elk Grove High School in Illinois. Mark writes about “Letting Go” in his must-read Collab Lab blog in which he helps teachers understand both sides of the learning interaction in classrooms.
In Change School, we start each cohort by asking, “What do you believe about learning?” Mark decided to start his school year by asking his students to “Define learning.” He writes:
The conversations were amazing. The students saw that learning should change you and be a personal struggle. One of the things I had to point out to them, even though they wrote it down, was that teachers should listen. They were taken aback by that. Teachers are learners, too. If I am going to be less of a planner, I need to listen a lot more.