Please take some time to read Insight Labs’, “Disrupting the Discourse: An Insight Labs Inquiry Into the Rhetoric of School Reform” .
And if you don’t have time to read the whole paper, at least read the manifesto it is based on, “School is Not School.”
The crux of “Disrupting” is that we imagine schooling in a far too limited way, and this limitation is a huge obstacle to school reform. The current way of imagining insists that the purpose of schools is the development of ‘human capital.’ This is a utilitarian view that assumes that we need to develop individuals who will serve, and benefit from, our economy. It assumes that schooling should be designed to give students the skills needed to compete in the global economy, and to supply workers for this economy.
To quote the report, “The problem… was that the core purpose of school did not naturally lend itself to the kinds of passions that create national movements. Most school reform proposals, as well as policies current among the status quo, were measured by fairly narrow criteria: will more students be prepared for college? Will they have the skills they need to pursue remunerative jobs? Will they form a workforce that will keep the United States competitive? If you take the shining faces of children out of the equation, these are goals that most people understand to be important, but not ones that are likely to bring them to the streets – particularly when the targets are 20 years in the future. And given that the highest ideal offered by the model was the economic success of individuals, it would be illogical for most parents to commit their time and energy to the future of children besides their own.” (My emphasis added.)
This vision of reform reinforces the conservative frame of the individual striving in a market driven world.
And this view is an obstacle to school reform because it is individualistic. It is about the privatized ‘me’ rather than common ‘we.’ The only excitement generated within it is based on how ‘I’ might benefit- there is no mobilizing, binding vision. And there is no recognition within it of the interdependent reality of life.
In opposition to this, the Insight Lab suggests that a transcendent purpose that will generate the energy needed for change is that of the development of citizens working for the common good. Rather than a vision of purpose of schooling as the development of the individual skills needed to serve a market, the purpose of schooling should instead be to develop individuals who recognize the interdependence of life, and act in accordance with this recognition. That is, the development of citizens with the skills needed to benefit a common good.
Another way to put this is, that our current conversation around education reform is based on the ‘how’ of schooling. Instead, we should be questioning, as Will Richardson suggests, the ‘why’of schooling.
As a warning, my understanding is that “Disrupting” and “School is Not School” are not intended to provide answers. Nor do they assume there are no problems within their suggestions- in fact, much of “Disrupting” is a discussion of the potential issues it raises. They are intended to be the beginning of a reframing of our conversation around reform. And to this end they succeed.