I was recently talking with a colleague about the need to change education but the challenge being that a change needed to be a complete redo, not redressing the same thing. Such a change would require a huge cultural shift. In order to achieve that there would need to be a Martin Luther King Jr. for schools; someone to inspire and lead the pack to change society. Someone not afraid of beating his head against the wall. Someone charismatic who could lead the charge to move schools to the 21st century. That someone has not emerged yet.
The irony of this conversation is that I had just begun reading Simon Sinek's book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Simon's thesis is that in order to successfully lead you need an inspiring leader who is focused on the WHY surrounded by people who can plan and execute the HOW in order to accomplish the WHAT. He cites several examples including Martin Luther King, Jr., Steve Jobs, and JFK. These people had a vision that changed the world.
Over the last centuries, the why of education has changed. Women in ancient Sparta were educated to run their family business because Sparta's why was military might to protect and the men folk might be absent. Puritan education was premised on the need to read the Bible to better understand God. Children on the industrial revolution were educated to get them off the streets, provide care while parents were working 14 hour days in factories and to prepare them for the workforce. Today the WHY is foggy. Are we trying to produce an educated workforce? Are we trying to stage kids for college? Are we trying to do as my districts mission statement says: develop "the whole child physically, emotionally and culturally?" Our diverse nation struggles with answering the why of education and so it is no wonder that we can improve education. All the new things we want will only be moderately successful because we do not know what we as a nation want our schools to do.
If we want to educate a populace for the 21st century, we need someone who can inspire and articulate the WHY of education of today. Sinek says, "Passion comes from feeling like you are part of a something that you believe in, something bigger than yourself" (p. 111). Our young people leave college and enter teaching with the passion, but the reality of teaching often tarnishes it quickly out of the start. They need to find the motivation to keep up the hard work of educating children so that they do not simply go through the motions. If we can collect the passion with a leader we can magnify it and change the world. We need to start with a willingness to challenge the status quo. If we want our schools to truly prepare students for the 21st, we need to articulate what that means, get the general population on board and make sweeping changes to the field. Education must cease to be the job you take so you can have summers off and be home with your children of the future, and must become a job where the constant pursuit of professional improvement is essential, where instead of whining about union hours, all teachers put in the time that needs to be put in, the job that spreads itself throughout the whole year because we are fully committed to developing students who can thrive in the ever-changing environment that is our today. If we want life long learners, we must become life long learners. If we want people to believe that the world owes us something, let the era of entitlement continue.
My answer to the WHY of education is to create independent thinkers and learners who can navigate the world of tomorrow. If we all were to be willing to engage in the changes that the goal encompasses, think where we could go.