In the history of education, the most striking phenomenon is that schools of learning, which at one epoch are alive with a ferment of genius, in a succeeding generation exhibit merely pedantry and routine.-Ted Sizer (2004)
I recently perused an amazing strategic plan for a boarding school that is thinking to the future and thinking deeply about students as individuals at the heart of the process. The thought of supporting and mentoring young people while also co-creating learning environments that bridge tradition, today and in the future is both daunting and wonder filled. The difficult discussions and direct actions toward progressive change are not made lightly in any school seeking resiliency, but the sustained motion toward those changes are essential to ensure a chance at resilience.
When thinking about the design and planning of these learning environments I am at once inspired and then cautionary. Inspired because we are right to want, and more importantly work toward, schools of the future. Institutions that shift and realign resources to grant both the permission and “place” for Interdisciplinary, connected, mobile and cross cultural education will have a place in history. As core contributors of direly needed solutions for a world in ecological, social and economic overshoot we will tell stories of their grand experiments and bold action. I am cautionary because the roads of reform are now well paved with good intention, money and research yet driven back and forth with the “exceptions” at the wheel. We can do the most visionary x but must not radically alter the schedule because of y. This is a place where Ted Sizer’s 1973 book “Places of Learning, Places of Joy: Speculations on American School Reform illustrates and illuminates this pattern in American education. At the time publication, Ted had just arrived at Andover as headmaster to oversee the Abbot-Andover merger (Undoubtedly a landscape of intellectual, social and physical change that allowed his thought to further steep about reform in American schools and undoubtedly a reason for the success of Andover today. In the book Sizer argues, that we know the barriers to educational reform and as a country we rest with them willingly. As a country we will throw out slogans, sentiments and salutations; spend millions of dollars tinkering and ignore the science and possibly, more importantly, the humanity and needs of our children.
To often only that change which fits neatly into our schedules, classrooms and conditioned comfort of work pass after calls for change in education are raised. Ted asks that we look in the mirror and ask deep questions about what schools are for…. Are they places of learning, or places of joy…..or something more? Schools that place their tradition (today and tomorrow) onto the wind with a mission and vision of change instilled give hope for what can be. Sizer spoke of words, and actions that suppressed and confused movement for needed change in schools. In some sectors of education, thirty four years later we may see the same issues that Sizer discussed in Places of Learning Places of Joy but we also see an independent school movement poised to transform education and one starting to do so.