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Mar-16-2017

An Open Letter to Sir Ken Robinson #MACUL17

Posted by Tim under Personal

Dear Sir Ken,

I hope it is OK if I call you Sir Ken. It seems rather friendly for someone I just met today, but then you may be one of the friendliest people I’ve come across. It was an honor to meet you, however briefly, but even more so because I found you to be utterly down to earth and, might I say, humble.

I enjoyed my short talk with you immensely. You weren’t interested in sharing more of your tremendous insights into education and pedagogy (to which I would have eagerly attended). Instead, you wanted to know about my job, if I felt the school I was at was being successful, why I drive 90 miles one way to work, and the general well-being of my mother. You even offered to add one more viewer to my own TEDx Talk (I’m a few views shy of 300 million, but then it’s only been up a few months). And, in case you forgot my last name, here is a link to the video.

I wanted to share with you a thought that went through my head while you were talking today. It was during the time when you were discussing how children learn to talk without a teacher, the general model of education to which we have seemingly become addicted, and how reform hasn’t really worked.

My education background prior to being a public school teacher was in Christian education. We’ve experienced a lot of reform movements in the Church. Years ago I read a book by Gilbert Bilezikian titled, “Community 101: Reclaiming the Local Church as a Community of Oneness.” In that book (which I read while serving as a Christian Servicemen’s Center Director at RAF Mildenhall, a place you might know), Dr. B talked about the original model of the Church being one of community where everyone came and offered something to the setting of worship. For some it might be a prayer. For others a song. Others a word of edification. In all, the Gifts of the Spirit were free to operate, and the Church grew quickly.

As you said about public education, it was personal. It was local. It was cultural. And it was social.

Somewhere along the line, people started doing stupid things.  The Church was not operating as it should.  In Dr. B’s words, it was sick. The Apostle Paul then gave an admonishment to the Church that they should no longer be led by a group of people who were abusing the Spirit’s work.  Instead, they should choose one man of good report to be the “up front” person. He would direct things. And, it worked. The Church regained some focus, and things seemed to be good again.

They standardized the Church.

However, Dr B’s theory is that this should have been a temporary measure.  At some point, when the Church regained it’s footing, it should have gone back to a communal sharing of spiritual gifts. But it never did. And we’ve been operating in a “sick church” model ever since.

In spite of several reform movements, the Church has continued to operate under some pretty simple guidelines.  There is a man (or woman) at the front of the church that leads the service through its many phases. There is a singer, or group of singers, that “perform.” Congregants sit in pews (or chairs), face the nice man (or woman) up front, and listen appreciatively to the singers.  We’ve gone from cathedrals to churches to chapels to strip malls to store fronts to home churches to movie theaters, (we’ve even added coffee shops) but they all have this same end result: they cling to the “sick church” model because it is familiar and….well…easy.  Standardization always is.

As I said, I was a  Christian Servicemen’s Center Director.  And this is exactly what I did. I am ashamed to admit it all these years later. I didn’t really know how to break that cycle. And if there was ever a place where it could have been broken, RAF Mildenhall was it.

I said all of this to emphasize the point you made about school reform. We’ve gone through all types of pedagogical changes. We’ve bought books and watched videos (including yours). We’ve adopted Problem Based learning, Project Based Learning, and every other kind of Based Learning you can think of. We’ve emphasized STEM and STEAM and STREAM and more. We’ve tried college ready, career ready, and college AND career ready.

And yet, by and large, our classrooms are still made up of a teacher at the front of the room with students gazing upon their bountiful knowledge from nice, neat rows of desks (or circles or squares or whatever else we have room to try), and we feed them what we’re told they are supposed to learn and test them the way we are told to test them. And we’re not making much headway because we have this “sick school” model with which our systems have grown comfortable.  We’ve even standardized the way we evaluate success by trying to quantify teacher effectiveness.

I have often complained about district policies or state policies or federal policies that hold us back from doing the things we know work. Things that bring out the natural curiosity in our students. Things that ignite the spark of desire. Things that make light bulbs light up over the tops of our students’ heads.

But today, you said something profound for me. I even tweeted it:

This is a model espoused by my principal, Becky Ashe. She may not say it in these words, but she believes it with all her heart. It is partly why I drive 90 miles to work every day. She believes it. She lives it. She leads it. And our school, our kids, our teachers, and our district are the better for it. And yes, I am better for it.

You’d like her. I hope she gets to meet you one day soon. Oh, and she also has a really good TEDx Talk you might enjoy. You can find it here.

Anyway, it was great just hanging out with you. I thought I would feel really nervous being in the presence of such educational and Internet royalty. But you put us all at ease right up front. And that, in my mind, may have been your highest achievement.

Sincerely,

Me

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