(I am writing two posts on disconnections, which are meant to be read in tandem. The other is here.)
The most jarring experience I have on a regular basis is the trip I take into the virtual world of education bloggers and tweeters.
Most days, I take leave of my physical presence on the 2 train or in my apartment, and enter a conversation with thousands of teachers and other education-minded folks around the world. It’s usually a thought-provoking conversation, but sometimes when I enter back to the reality of my Bronx school and classroom, the distance between the cyberworld and the real one in which I teach seems insurmountable.
In the cyberworld, there is a seemingly blind faith in social media being the foundation of a “21st century education,” whatever that means. There is faith that through blogging, Facebook, or Twitter, students can learn more, teachers can become better professionals, and we can accomplish true “education reform,” as opposed to the model being put forth by the Klein’s, Canada’s, and Rhee’s of the world. I enjoy my time in cyberworld; I get great ideas to bring back to my classroom, and hope that in return I provide some for others.
This past weekend, cyberworld became reality for a day in the form of EdCampNYC, an innovative new model of professional development for teachers. It’s called an unconference, though the term states a position of opposition rather than a description of what really happens. At EdCamps, which have started popping up across the country in the past year, any teacher can present, and teachers are free to move between sessions. The originators of the idea and the organizers of the NYC conference should be praised; it is a good idea and the past weekend was a great event. Some wonderfully and accurately positive accounts of the event can be read here, here, and here.
I think though, some humility is necessary, amongst those that think this represented a revolution in professional development. The unconference model seems to be one of diminishing returns. This year’s was great and something different, but will next year’s push things significantly further, or will it just rehash the same topics that are batted around cyberworld on a regular basis? There were great people at the conference, but though the conference was held in Manhattan, of the 50 or so people I interacted with on Saturday, only a few were urban public school teachers, thus creating a disconnect between the methodologies discussed and the student population who are actually subject to “reform” efforts. Let us not forget, no one on the national level is trying to reform suburban or private schools.
The conversations that happen in cyberworld and at places like EdCampNYC are important, but they only gloss the surface of what actually happens in real schools that serve more challenging populations of students, and they focus more on classroom activities than actual pedagogy and planning. At the first session I attended on education reform, nearly every idea suggested by the largely suburban teachers to deal with something frustrating about their school is something that is already happening at my Bronx school (common planning time, alternative models of assessment and planning, small schools, etc). I remind the participants that they could get everything they wanted, and that still wouldn’t be enough. The second session I attended on Standards Based Grading was great and an idea I’ve pushed forward in my classroom, but it’s probably the 15th most important thing I do for my students. I led my third session on Project Based Learning in History Classrooms, but even I need to admit this won’t help a teacher who can’t get over the fact that just because students might read and write on a 5th grade level in high school, doesn’t mean they can’t think like a high schooler.
I had a great time last Saturday and left feeling engaged and energized by the experience. But when I walked back into my classroom this week, where the Savage Inequalities of education once again reared their ugly head, my EdCampNYC experience seemed like nothing more than a dream, sadly disconnected from the problems before me as a teacher and school leader everyday in the real world.