A trainer’s response to David Bowles’ Twitter thread on Training

I recently read David Bowles’ viral twitter thread about why “modern education is a failure” (it’s not new, but it’s making the rounds again) and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s not that I absolutely disagree with him. I don’t have a PhD in education, but even I know that schools are designed to create worker bees, not free thinkers. This is a huge problem and it deserves to be addressed. But if you tell the teachers in the same breath that they are “breaking the souls of the children”, then we are having the wrong conversation. If you really want to make a difference, don’t put teachers to shame. Empower them.

Realize how hard it is to break the wheel

It’s a real challenge not to teach the way you’ve been taught. Just ask any parents who are trying not to become their own. It’s especially difficult when our teacher preparation programs haven’t prepared us for it. (And the sheer number of things teachers can’t handle is amazing. How to Comfort a 9 Year Old Liquorice Vomiting ”isn’t a class most colleges offer.) I’ve always seen myself as a progressive teacher. but I fell into the pattern of taking weekly spelling tests and even took part in a Thanksgiving program that made me wince because it “was like we always did”. So yes, there is a lot of perpetuation of ineffective strategies and broken systems, but it is not a death sentence for education. Here’s why.

Trust that we will do better when we know better

Thank you, Dr. Maya Angelou for empowering us. We don’t have to know everything to do a good job. We are constantly learning and responding absolutely to what research tells us. When research showed us that the effects of homework on young learners was zero, we dropped it. I recently worked with school staff who had an initial conversation about intersectionality and I watched as 70 educators came up with ideas for providing windows and mirrors and devoted themselves to implementing an anti-bias approach. Does change need a hot minute? Yes sir. Are there still sticklers? Yes sir. But don’t lump us all together. Most of us are in education because we are lifelong learners and want to inspire our students to be the same. Unfortunately, we are not the ones who make a lot of decisions.

Give teachers more control

I think Bowles is exactly right when he says, “The key cognitive science and child psychology-driven strategies that we have discovered are fairly regularly rejected by foundational, test-driven administrators.” My solution? Give teachers more autonomy. Hear what we are saying about standardized tests. End the madness of scripting curricula, relentless tempo guides, and publishing learning objectives. Let’s rethink what makes performance and bring the magic of learning back to all grade levels. Let’s do what we can: continuously evaluate our learners’ knowledge and skills and design a flexible curriculum based on their individual needs and interests. Do we need guard rails for accountability? Secure. But treat us like professionals. Believe me, we’re sick of being underestimated.

Give teachers more respect

Why don’t we do this from the start? Because as a society we don’t respect teachers. And frankly, such contributions don’t help. We are already labeled as lazy, held responsible for mask mandates (or lack thereof) and subjected to humiliating evaluation processes. And now you want to tell us that children do not learn anything from us? Shot. In case you haven’t noticed, we are not responsible (see my last point). We are doing our best. We always have, and we are your best chance to disrupt this system. But keep it up, then none of us will be there to do the work. And that’s a problem.

Remember that many children need us

If you want to de-school your children, you have more power. Dismantle Capitalism? Do it. But that won’t happen tomorrow. Meanwhile, teachers and schools provide a safe haven for many students whose families they cannot pull out to de-school. For many children, school is the only place where they can be themselves and where teachers are the caring adults who make a difference to children with negative childhood experiences. We still need schools (unless you also solve how we are the safety net for all the evils of society). So let’s fix it. And while we’re at it, let’s let the teachers guide.

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