Obstacles to the 21st Century Education

So I received a comment on a previous blog post. When I started to address the question it posed, the response kinda ran away from me. I???ve regained control and have provided the product here as a new post. I should be careful; if I address every comment like this 1) I???ll never get anything done and 2) I???ll never get another comment…??

In response to posting a video introducing my research goals, a good friend of mine asked a very good question:

???So…What do you see as the biggest road blocks to giving the students of America this dynamic education. Funding? Pedagogy? Resistance to status quo (by adults of course?) Government interference? University teacher preparation? The technology gap????

There are many very viable, substantial, and compounding obstacles in the way of providing an education fitting of the 21st century. No single road block stated can be taken alone. Additionally, the research base for drawing conclusions to these issues are underdeveloped. My response will be somewhat opinionated, but driven by what is available.

Funding is rarely not an issue. However, given the availability of free and very-low-cost tools such as Wikispaces (PBWorks and WetPaint are others), Google Docs, Ning, and others, the investment is not the major concern. The concern of funding is more appropriately directed to the equipment needed to facilitate these hybrid or completely online environments. Computers are expensive and districts are currently unable to structure budgets to account for technology tools. Renovation of education is inevitable, however. The way in which schools distribute money will change. How this occurs and how money is repurposed leads to the next road block.

Race to the Top, the new and improved form of No Child Left Behind, may not be well-received in the hearts of practicing educators. This interference certainly places restrictions on education that will be felt for years. Its implications are being felt quite heavily in New York City and New York State with the recent fiasco regarding the trumpeted-then-retracted success of mayoral control and assessment-based accountability (see here, here, and here). Truly, the concept of racing to the top with one (maybe a few) winners with everyone else being losers might not be the best model for education reform. However, this all ensures that schools reconsider where and how their dollars are spent. This does not occur in a vacuum, away from external influence. School government allows for voice and expression of community values as the school is a derivative of the community and responsible for the education and development of the community???s children. Whose voice will be heard, if any at all, when schools redefine spending???

This leads us to the next set of obstacles. There are three blocks mentioned that I???d like to take collectively: teacher preparation, pedagogy, and resistance of the status quo. I will assume that by ???status quo???, this is referring to the held belief of many that technology was not used in their education, so it is unnecessary for the education of their children. This view employs a very narrow definition of the term technology (application of knowledge for practical purposes – New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd ed.) as technology has always been employed in instruction. There is, within this definition, a skepticism about the impact certain technologies have been assumed to have. Electronic textbooks are a recent ???big deal??? that haven???t had much influence, and the laptop initiatives are yet to produce a complete model of success. If that is the case, the status quo must have a source. Where does this skepticism originate?

I contend that the origin of this skepticism is in the deep-rooted practical nature of pedagogy. When concerning ourselves with the method and practice of teaching, is it assumed that pedagogy is static and unchanging? Is there a specific practice of teaching that has proven to ultimately lead to a set of ???learned??? students? The nature of diversity, especially seen when entering the classroom, assumes that pedagogy is dynamic and relative to the class of students such that the learner dictates the method with which they are taught. If this is a statement that can be agreed upon, then I shall proceed by applying it to the purpose of this comment reply.??

Teachers are known to reluctantly and pertinaciously maintain the instructional methods that have sustained them throughout their career to the point of stereotype. Modifications are often made to accommodate district/state mandates (electronic grade-book or assessments). Consider that the teachers renowned for success are those whom emphasize order and procedure as opposed to learning (see ???The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher???). Is this odd? The primary instruction found in schools today is an outdated pedagogy that fails to account for the technology and technological content knowledge necessary to educate 21st century students. When there is no impetus to change, no change will occur. In the video is a quote from Gary Stager that can???t be ignored, despite the generalization: ???Teachers tend to become dependent on teacher-proof systems and stop exercising professional judgement??? (???The Games Teachers Play???). The education of our preservice teachers is an area in which these needs can be addressed, and they are in institutions around the nation, but reliance upon this slow, generational transition of instruction cannot be the only place in which to hold hope.??

Therefore, pedagogy is the major obstacle to the educational environments that best serve the needs of our students. The instructional methods of millions of teachers must be awakened to accurately reflect the term pedagogy: a changing, dynamic understanding of what it takes to educate, adequately accompanied by knowledge of content and technology in order to reach students where they are (www.tpack.org). In a school comprised of teachers that fit this model, the technology gap will cease to exist, administrators and community will no longer fuss about assessments and accountability, and students will exercise their full potential, becoming successful and responsible members of the civic body.

The teachers ultimately hold the balance of power to restore faith and trust in the institution of education through their oath as a professional in the art of pedagogy. If teachers continue to passively surrender the power over their profession to makers of policy – those that know little, if anything about education – who expects to be satisfied with the result? Not I.
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