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In June 2013 the tone of the professional dialogue that I am hearing sounds more and more like a race to the end rather than arriving at a place at the top, with little left in our professional reserves to have a healthy disposition towards the important work that we do both now and in the future. With battle lines hardening in the larger polity, education is caught in the grips of a debilitating claim of right and wrong, us and them, new and old. I keep asking myself, how did we get here?
Moreover, I wonder about the trust, respect, and freedom to act in accordance with a determination to seek balance, professional judgment, and integrity absent an overarching and cumbersome system of accountability. Measures that claim to raise standards and create avenues designed to enhance professional practice rob us of our voice, and our willingness to take risks for fear of punitive actions, creating an overwhelming sense of can we just be done?
Gone is the wonder that comes in a place of challenge. Gone too is a civil, and reflective disposition that takes an authentic look back—rather than the innumerable boxes that need to be checked to be compliant in the current zeal to hold teachers, administrators, and learning communities accountable. Unlike the widgets that other sectors monitor in the name of productivity, our calling requires a human exchange of ideas filled with ambiguity.
I see the faces, hear the voices, read the blogs, news accounts, and emails that tell the story of where we live in education today. It’s not a pretty place. Worse yet, it is not a place that bodes well for our democracy. The hostility that is being generated to obtain an edge over other countries may well turn out to become a formula that diminishes our capacity to promote the best in our students and our profession.
In a recent post, Arthur H. Camins, Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology correctly identifies the many fallacies of the current wave of reform. We do our nation’s children and the integrity of our teaching profession no favors by forging ahead in the name of disruptive innovation—an almost take no prisoners approach with state and federal dictates in the name of reform.
This is not a call to retreat from efforts to invigorate our schools with the energy necessary to confront major challenges in educational equity and outcomes. I am under no illusion about the many forces which have conspired to shake the very foundation of this and other institutions in today’s society. To ignore the impact of how we live and work in 2013 as though it should be business as usual is to both miss the many opportunities that should be leveraged in our modern society, and fail to uphold our professional creed to grow and change with each new insight into best practice.
How we got here will be an important inquiry for historians to consider during the coming years. Equally important, however, is a quest to redirect the present unhealthy dialogue and trajectory for our future. Stop racing and start noticing what we may potentially be missing that could become collateral damage to our children, our profession, and our society in the journey ahead.