Engaged Learning Class Session 3 Reflections: Schools of the Future

After listening to each group’s responses to our discussion questions (“Would you want to be a part/teach at this school?”) last Tuesday night, it struck me that so many answers hinged on “test scores” and “how will they will be evaluated?.  For many people, NCLB and the emphasis on standardized testing played a key role as to whether or not they wanted to be part of a school like the Philadelphia “School of the Future.”  Our discussion was a mirror of the fearful and tense climate that has been created by NCLB; what troubles me most about The Age of NCLB is that the focus is on test scores (out of necessity, I understand) rather than what students are really learning.  Not one person said they wanted to be a part of the school or did not want to be a part of the school because of his/her philosophy of education and what he/she believed about teaching/learning.  Instead, most everyone (whatever role the group took on:  teacher, student, administrator, taxpayer) seemed to circle back to the questions of evaluation and assessment. 

When I first began teaching, everything seemed to revolve around one’s philosophy of education and teaching/learning; now, it seems irrelevant because NCLB dictates the dominant “philosophy”:  produce test scores that meet or exceed the expectations of the state department or whoever it is that sets the testing bar in any given year.   Please note I am not being critical of any individual—I am just noting my observations of the responses.I think a strong argument can be made that the testing frenzy of recent years has actually limited student achievement rather than raising the amount and depth of learning because teachers feel compelled to focus on standards and benchmarks that are emphasized on the standardized tests. 

I say all this because I see NCLB as a key obstacle to teachers embracing strategies that will engage today’s learners and a learning environment that values inquiry-driven project based learning.   While all of us had some legitimate and valid concerns about the approach of the Philadelphia Schools of the Future, I think the majority of us are hungry for a public education system that looks different from the one we know all too well.    I believe it would be rash to embrace one particular model for the school of the future that really is the school of the here and now; instead, I think we have to “think outside the box” and explore many models that will offer something for the diverse learners who trod our halls.    We don’t have to throw out the “things” that work to infuse new methods and strategies.   Do I believe the Philadelphia model is “the answer”?  No—in my opinion, there were too many non-technology aspects of education missing (fine arts, actual books to name the two that struck me immediately), but I do believe there are “pearls of wisdom” to be gleaned from what this school is doing.

What are barriers to change, though?  If we all agree that public education must change, what is stopping us?

1.  Politics—like it or not, public education is political.  I wish someone had told me that as an undergraduate student.  UGA did a much better job of opening frank discussions about how political agendas impact public education in ways that are insidious and frankly, somewhat frightening!  For better or worse, politics play a major role in what is taught, how it is taught, and to whom it is taught.

2.  Reluctance to step outside our comfort zone:   John Dewey may be long dead and gone, but there is still wisdom in his words from Experience and Education:  “It is easier to walk in the paths that have been beaten than it is, after taking a new point of view, to work out what is practically involved in the new point of view” (30).

3.  Change comes slowly.  Revolution does not happen overnight.  Developing a pedagogy that is liberating, not oppressive (read Paulo Freire if you don’t believe people are oppressed by educational systems) will take time.  Unfortunately, I believe we are running out of time to make changes that are needed to make our public education system more relevant, meaningful, authentic, equitable, and fruitful to all learners. 

I have probably oversimplified these obstacles, but those are the three that stand out to me.

So what does School 2.0 (and beyond) look like?  What roles do school media centers play in School 2.0?

First, I love Kristine’s post about the Future of Learning Manifesto!  This is a witty, sharp, and insightful look at today’s learners and a vision of the future of learning.  It is a “must read” if you have not seen it!

Secondly, check out Joyce Valenza’s blog post, “Shift Happened:  The Librarian Divide”; I think the same can be applied to teachers who don’t get that tapping into technology is not an option; it is essential.  While the goodies are definitely a carrot for most teachers to enroll in Teach 21, I see Teach 21 (and Media 21) as a means to help the 1.0 folks move to 2.0, and those are who are 2.0 to kick it up a notch to whatever comes beyond 2.0.  🙂 

Since Kristine got me thinking about manifestos, I remembered Joyce Valenza (the queen of school library media specialists) came up with a manifesto for 21st century teacher-librarians.  Since I am in Media 21, I thought it would be fun to revisit her manifesto and consider how I am applying it in my work and to think about how Media 21 can help me better implement some of the key elements of this manifesto.  You can view the manifesto in one of several ways:


  • It occurs to me that the very challenges of creating an engaged learning environment are similar to challenges we discussed in my READ 8300 “Inquiry Based Literacy” class I took Fall 2002 at UGA.  Although this class was for language and literacy educators, I think the issues are strikingly similar….take a peek at my notes from one of our group discussions.  This postscript might be especially relevant since my professor, Dr. Bob Fecho, taught in inner city Philadelphia (high school English) for nearly 25 years. 
  • For more on Paulo Freire,  see this link or read my reactions and musings on Freire.
  • Why are you doing this?   I asked myself this as a teacher back in 2002, and I have been asking myself this question as a librarian since 2006. This is a question I think about a lot as I try to break the “status quo” of being a high school librarian.  How can the library be an alternate site of literacy?  How do we, in the words of Kristine Woods, “burst the bubble” of what people perceive about “traditional” library media programs in the high school?  How do we disrupt tradition and harness technology to create a new model of inquiry and learning with the high school media center at the heart of this brave new world of School 2.0?
  • These postscript “musings” are here because I do believe inquiry and taking a critical (as in critical theory, not “dissin'”) stance are essential to Learning 2.0 and School 2.0.

Moral of This Post:  No one ever said being a pioneer was easy!   


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