A major problem with public education is tradition. "This is just the way things are done here," is a refrain that I've heard many times in my own short career. One of my take-aways from TEDxNYED is this: The tools and services to make schools modern and relevant are available, but schools need to overcome their "traditions. I'll avoid a breakdown of what individual speakers discussed1. Instead I'll try to comment on the broader spectrum of themes and reactions.
Theme #1: Education should be open. To me it seems obvious that a high quality education should be treated more like a universal right than something only available to those in nice neighborhoods of rich countries. I think many of the educators I know as well as the speakers (& hopefully you, reader), would heartily agree. However, it's quite clear that the current schooling system puts an awful lot of faith in for-profit corporations to provide educational content. Clearly this doesn't have to be the case. Many schools and educators are resistant. Why? "Because that's the way things have always been done."
Theme #2: Education should be social. This definition of social goes beyond using collaborative groups within your classroom. Instead (as Andy Carvin did such a great job illustrating) we should empower our students to set up collaborations without our classrooms to help tackle real problems. John Dewey noted that learning is socially constructed and this movement towards using social networks to connect people around a common problem seems to flow quite nicely from that idea.
Theme #3: Better Problems = Better Learning. Whether intentionally or not, as educators we tend to shelter our students from real-world problems. We don't think our students are ready yet, don't know how to connect students to the problems, or are afraid of relinquishing our control over the students. Many speakers pointed out the fact that one of the greatest motivations for learning is attempting to solve a really good problem. Hats off to Dan Meyer who did his typically great job showing us what that actually looks like in an Algebra classroom.
Theme #4: Do it for the kids. Chris Lehmann makes this case so well2. Make schools a place of great relationships and great learning. We can't continue allowing schools to be places students detest. While Michael Wesch and Dan Meyer's talks didn't focus on the topic, they've both been great advocates to creating educational environments that focus around positive relationships with students as a cornerstone (see here and here, respectively).
1: I'm much cooler online. This was the first large event I've been to with loads of people I've talked to through Twitter and blogs in attendance. I'm not so great at walking up to people cold and introducing myself. As a result I didn't meet nearly as many people as I would've liked.
2: It's great to meet locals. I had the opportunity to meet Dan Agins, who is the only other educator on Twitter (that I'm aware of) from Southeastern Connecticut. Perhaps it's a bit ironic that we first met in NYC instead of SE CT, but regardless of location it's nice to connect with people nearby. Let's hope we're just the beginning of a larger trend in the area.
3: Advice to sink in slowly. So much knowledge was dropped in such a short period of time at TEDxNYED that I'm really looking forward to the videos of the talks being posted online. There were several talks that I'd like to hear again to help me clarify my thoughts and ideas on the topic.
4: Post-TEDxNYED furor. There seems to have been a pretty big, "TEDxNYED-was-great-but-what-does-it-actually-do-to-improve-education" reaction from many attendees3. I was surprised that this seemed to be a major reaction. Perhaps that surprise is the result of me being a edu-conference newbie working in a school/district/state which doesn't sport a very high population of educators who are familiar with the ed-tech world. For me, this event was a reminder that I'm not crazy. A reminder that there are a lot of smart people out there who are on the same page. For me, that re-invigoration was necessary. It's easy to get worn down by the head-against-brick-wall experience that can be day-to-day teaching.
5: Oh, the irony. Coming back from my TEDxNYED weekend I had the honor of administrating practice CAPT (Connecticut's standardized test of choice) to 14 year old students that may very likely not even be graded. I'm sure the feeling was similar to Icarus' transition from delight in flying to despair in falling4.
- Several people have already done this quite nicely. My own observations wouldn't add much value to what already exists. Plus the talks should be available online in their entirety shortly. (back)
- He deserves to be featured prominently in the education version of 40 Inspirational Speeches in 2 minutes. (back)
- Check out many of the responses at this site curated by Shelley Krause (@butwait). (back)
- This might be a little overstatement, but I was in a serious edu-funk the first week or so of school after TEDxNYED due to this crash back to reality. (back)