Waiting for Superman …..while Archimedes draws circles in the sand

This summer I had the pleasure of hearing Paul Tough speak about his new book “Whatever it takes -Geoffery Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America“. Subsequently I read the book and was impressed with the scope of Canada’s vision and perseverance.While his approach to education is whole child (he calls a conveyor belt) the real question Canada is trying to answer is the scalability of his model.Can a child be lifted out of poverty through education with the right support?I would agree that the answer is yes.I think the real question is are we as a society willing to support the support the child needs.

On the heels of reading this book I saw the documentary “Waiting for Superman“. While this movie is based on the American experience and angst over a failing education system, it offers hope that with support and good teaching ALL students can learn and be successful in their learning.This movie trucks out such examples as Canada’s Harlem Project and Teach for America success stories such as the KIPP schools and Michelle Ree (success is up for debate here).

Many people have an opinion on what makes good schooling.Myself included.Wendy Kopp’s new book “A chance to make history” is full of such advice. I did not read the book but from hearing her talk to Charlie Rose it is one I have on my summer list.Being a constructivist I like what Bausell has to say in his book “Too Simple to Fail“.

For me the key message is that with the right system in place, ALL students can learn.In his book “Outliers” Gladwell eloquently summarizes this by saying “most of us are smart enough”.

For me the key piece is authenticity of the learning and engaging the students in their learning.The KIPP and Harlem Project, Big Picture Learning, are all examples of systems where the students and their families have buy in and see value in what is being offered.The lottery draw just to get in is evidence enough of this.While these concepts are scalable they are only scalable to the point of authenticity saturation.I feel the majority of the school systems here in Canada have families who know that schooling is important and where most students are compliant in attending, the authenticity of the learning disappears, as is evident from the lack of cognitive engagement (What did you do in School today) by our students.

This is where I think Bausell has it right.We now have the tools to help us rethink how education works.It is time for mass customization of learning.We have a lot of smart passionate teachers who care about students.Like Archimedes, they are willing to experiment and put their ideas into action.Waiting for Superman is wishful thinking.The answer will come from the collective sharing and work of many.

Archimedes was said to have been killed while refusing to stop working on a theoretical problem long enough to deal with the real problem of not being killed by an irate soldier.We need to recognize that our education system is in real trouble and deal with it before it dies and start exploring authentic learning to engage our students.

Just because we did not find formal learning joyful does not mean it should always be so.Time to stop waiting for Superman and being distracted from what is important like when poor Archimedes was drawing circles in the sand.



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