In response to Tracy Rosen’s October 3, 2008 blog post Educational Malpractice: "A Values Charged Assessment" on her blog Leading From the Heart, and in response to a comment by Heidi Glass Gable in her October 3, 2008 response to my October 3, 2008 blog post, "Well…Is THIS Educational Malpractice?”
Tracy and Heidi, you raise interesting and thought provoking ideas and questions. I thank you for getting involved in this conversation! It is not easy to step forward and share thoughts and feelings. It takes courage.
Heidi, you suggest that such conversations are “useful as a beginning step to determine what the issue is.” Thank you for making this observation. That is precisely the intent of my initial blog post, "Is This Educational Malpractice?" I sincerely believe that most members of our profession will not interpret the hard questions as a “judgment of failure.” We are much tougher than that. Most educators know they are not failing. Some acknowledge that the change mandates facing schools are not unreasonable and some accept the logic behind the directives. Some superlative educators are more than willing to embrace personal accountability on issues surrounding 21st century skills - and, some educators are embracing student-centered learning with one (functional!)computer in their classrooms! As Tracy (who knows she is not failing) points out - active, engaging, social learning does not necessarily require computer hardware and connectivity. While it is possible for students to practice many learning skills in the absence of technology, I ask WHY? I suggest that using the tools of the age is essential to building the skills students will need for success in a modern society and a global economy. In my opinion, we need all of the teachers to embrace the 21st century challenge! We need every student to have opportunities for participation in the world’s conversation - just as we are participating now. Students need opportunities to demonstrate competence in essential 21st century learning standards and performance skills. To do so, they must be able to use technology. In a time when the digital divide so seriously threatens “equity” for all students, the schools serve as “the bridge of hope” for technology literacy for many American children. We cannot let these children down.
Tracy, you suggest that we identify those who are “mal-practicing” and you put forward a far more complex and serious observation: “If there is malpractice it is systemic.” I say, thank you. While I am not at all in favor of pursuing “mal-practicers,” I am most interested in a conversation that advances our profession’s ability to articulate an argument for substantial, proactive change in our nation’s classrooms. I embrace your good observation and pose it back to you as a question: “Is education malpractice - with respect to the 21st century skills - a systemic problem?” I’m not sure it is, but I am willing to suggest that a time of reckoning is upon our profession. As a member of the education community, I am prepared to objectively consider the possibility of systemic malpractice in implementing the 21st century skills in our schools. I am willing to partner with teachers, leaders, policy makers and government officials to be certain the barriers (which Heidi describes as “what stands in the way of DOING”) are removed. Common barriers cited by educators include: 1.) lack of teacher professional development; 2.)lack of teacher time for learning and practice: 3.) fear of change; 4.) fear of technology; 5.) resistant attitudes; 6.) lack of technology: 7.) lack of technical support; 8.) blocked web access and on and on. There are many barriers – but they are not insurmountable. There are solutions. I am willing to be a part of solutions that makes it possible for educators and students to learn using the most powerful learning tools of the age - in spite of the barriers. There are scores of teachers that work toward these goals on a daily basis. There are some education leaders across this nation that work daily and diligently to eliminate barriers. But we need help. I suggest that the entire education community is needed to support the migration from traditional education practices to 21st century learning environments.
Tracy, I totally disagree that the compelling need for 21st century skills is “a values-charged argument.” I suggest that adopting, embracing and teaching the learning skills it is a responsibility. I also disagree that the whole language movement is “values-charged” movement. The whole language movement (simplified) advocates for knowledge construction as learners make meaning in language-rich environments. Promising research-based principles that point to efficacy of whole language methods attract educators. Yet, in the current decade, the 2000 National Reading Panel released "The Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read," which concludes that children benefit most from explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, text comprehension and oral reading fluency. Now, here is my point. The "reading wars" are a debate between two research-based methodologies. It has become an emotionally-charged issues for some educators - but both camps agree on the value of teaching children to read. The methods teachers use do not deprive students of reading instruction. Clearly, our nation’s teachers work to teach reading - and they are passionate about it. With respect to 21st century skills, however, a teacher’s decision not to use technology (where it is available) deprives a student of opportunities to practice and learn the 21st century skills in technology-empowered, information-rich environments. It is irresponsible to "decide" not to use technology for learning. I'm calling for a passionate teacher workforce that champions the use of technologies to advance the 21st century skills.
Heidi, I'd like to answer your good question: “Why, as a system, are we failing so miserably in providing teachers with mentors and coaches who will help them (teachers) through this change?” That is, in fact, the specific work that I do each and every day. I work with teacher leaders and mentors who “lead the learning” in schools committed to becoming models of 21st century learning. We are not failing. These educators are amazing! Education specialists who guide and support teachers through the process of transforming education are an invaluable investment. They are hard to find. They are hard to keep. They are, in my opinion, the change agents needed to make positive change happen. And I believe, they are responding to the call to "stand up" for updating our schools for the students of the 21st century. Still, there are too many educators that irresponsibly "decide" not to participate. That is a shame.
So, we have had quite a discussion! I’ve neglected some very important work this past 36 hours – and must get back to it - but I consider this conversation worth a lost night’s sleep. I’m signing off on this topic now – but leave you with an earnest question. Are we, as an education community, willing and able to consider the question of "malpractice" with respect to implementing the 21st century skills in our classrooms? I find the question intriguing. I've been thinking about it each day since I heard it. I am not discouraged and I am not defensive. As an educator, I am determined to practice the 21st century skills!