NATIONAL COUNCIL OF EDUCATION HISTORIANS
ANNUAL CONFERENCE 2040: Looking Back, Looking Beyond
15 JULY 2040 / 4:30 PM / John Dewey Auditorium
Kate Stoessel, Educator and Author, Behind Closed Doors: Education in the Early 2000’s
Hello, and thank you for inviting me to speak at this year’s NCEH Annual Conference. When I was told that the theme this year was “Looking Back, Looking Beyond” I was incredibly excited. Education in this country has gone through an incredible transformation in the past 30 years and if we don’t stop and take stock of what is working, then we are missing a huge opportunity. Tonight, I am charged with highlighting some of these groundbreaking changes and then, as a community, we can analyze them and ask ourselves “What’s Next?.”
When I was a young teacher, I had the opportunity to work at some of the most progressive schools in the country. In the early 2000’s, however, “progressive” was still a dirty word. People feared what they believed to be an experimental form of education, despite the fact that this pedagogy had been around for well over 100 years. In that climate of fear, we began to measure education, and educators, based on standardized test scores. I considered myself lucky to have avoided these measures working at progressive independent schools, but the climate of fear clouded the country’s schools and mine were no exception.
Beginning in the second decade of the 2000’s people began asking whether or not the classical education system was serving our children and our workforce. The answer was a resounding no. How could an educational framework developed before the amazing technological and cultural advances of the 20th Century, serve the 21st Century workforce? Something had to be done about this! Education was the only institution not progressing forward but stagnant at “good enough.” The outcry was so great that corporations, government organizations, students, and educational leaders sat down together in the first ever United States EdForce Summit of 2018. These key stakeholders outlined a revolution in education in the resulting report. Some of the ground breaking shifts were:
- Teachers would now be thought of, not as content deliverers, but as learning facilitators.
- Rote memorization was outlawed as a methodology.
- Skill-based curricula became the norm.
- Bloom’s taxonomy became a key measure for the effectiveness of a curriculum.
- School districts had to begin creating benchmarks for authentic out-of-classroom experiences.
- Technology was to be used to aid in differentiation of instruction.
- Student choice was encouraged as a means of developing an intrinsic motivation in young learners.
- Textbooks were believed to be an antiquated tool that hindered students from being able to analyze the reliability of a source.
- Schools would now focus on depth over scope in curricula
The EdForce Summit of 2018 was an incredible step forward for champions of a new education for a new century. Classrooms began slowly transforming over the next 10 years. Project and place-based learning were becoming the norm, not just the purview of those able to afford independent schools. Things were going well, but a new
stake holder was calling for further reforms. This stakeholder would change the way we thought about schools for the past 400 years. Museums and cultural institutions had now entered the discussion.
By 2028, Progressive educators like me thought things had gotten as good as it could possibly get! Public and independent schools were no longer battle grounds between teachers and students, teachers and the administration, or teachers and parents. The collaborative nature of the classroom translated outward into larger communities. Learning was being shared out to the public and children were getting authentic experiences. Partners in these out of classroom adventures were local museums and other cultural spaces. More schools were using museum collections as practice fields for higher level learning skills, such as observation, recording, inferencing, analyzing, and synthesizing. The growth students were making in these key are as due to museum partnerships was evident to education facilitators and administrators. Yet museums and schools lived separately. They had separate conferences, separate professional organizations, separate buildings, separate identities. Great school-museum partnerships were happening a cross the country and yet no one considered museums and cultural spaces educational institutions with as much power in that realm as a school.
Here is where I think the revolution really gets exciting! Beth Irwin Rowling, the head of the American Alliance of Museums, demanded that she and some other museum stakeholders be invited to the Edforce Summit of 2028. This took the Lucy Sprague Edwin (then the Secretary of Education, now we know her as President Edwin) by surprise. Yet, being a futurist and a collaborative spirit then Secretary Edwin welcomed museums into the National discussion. Beth Irwin Rowling shocked the world when she asked the bold question “Why are our education facilitators still working behind closed doors? Are one or two special field trip days a quarter enough time? Why are students still stuck in the classroom?” To which Secretary Edwin famously responded “Children can not spend the day walking silently between velvet ropes at museums. They are not statues to be collected and displayed, but must be allowed to put on an exhibition of their very own.”
The news loved to pretend that these two giants of United States education system were contentious, but the truth was that their sparring was entirely productive for both museums and schools. After EdForce 2028 major changes were coming based on some key tenants.
- Tenant1: Museums and Schools must be more than partners, but extensions of each other. As a result, schools were now guaranteed free admission to any museum within a 50 mile radius of the school.
- Tenant2: Museums,like schools, must change with society. No longer can they be libraries of art and artifacts, where the sophisticated silently gather. These spaces must be community gathering points.
- Tenant3: Students must be out of the classroom and into the world. Schools must feel more like a home base than as pace where students rarely leave.
- Tenant4: Museums and Schools must merge on the macro and micro levels, sharing professional organizations and employees.
You all know what happened over the next 12 years. School buildings are getting smaller, but the classrooms are getting bigger. No longer do we define classrooms as 4 walls and a door. Our classroom is the community; the cultural spaces, the shops, and the streets. My students no longer sit in uncomfortable chairs all day getting a one size fits all education. Students are designing their own path through the national benchmarks of our education system, going on their own pace. A boy that I teach this year, we’ll call him Jayce, is a true kinesthetic learner. He is one of the most incredible builders that I’ve ever seen. In 2016, this boy’s talents would not have been recognized, but just yesterday I watched him exhibit his learning on mood and tone by creating three dimensional representations of two paintings in our local museum’s collection. He exhibited the work in the lobby. I am happy to say that he met this national benchmark with flying colors and I have approved him to move on to the next one in his electronic educational tracker. We have come along way from a museum trip meaning a lecture by a docent, haven’t we?
As an old teacher, I am in awe of the world we have created for our students. Everyday my pod of students are out in the community developing projects to meet their benchmarks. There sources that they have access to are unmatched anywhere in the world. I stand here 39 years after I first started teaching and I tell you that I have loved every minute of it. My challenge to you all is to keep asking each other to be collaborative. To keep expanding our community of educators and to keep asking “how can we do it better?.”
Have a great night and thank you for listening.