Are You Another Brick?

I was out walking today listening to Pandora, and Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall came on.  One of my favorites … and it reminded me of a recent blog post by Seth Godin on The Learning / Doing Gap.

As Godin noted, “To quote the ancient rockers, ‘We don’t need no… education.’ But we could probably benefit from some learning.”

Is it just me, or has anyone else in the past 40 years been struck by the juxtaposition that here are kids complaining about the rigid school system … and doing it with perfect elocution.

“We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall”

Godin’s post bothered some educators.  Look at the thread here:

Maybe not, but Godin did make the point that being good at school is not the same as learning something.  He noted that when we talk about learning, we often mean formal education, with it’s associated rules, rankings, and grades.  I am guilty of that in this blog!

“…Education (the compliance-based system that all of us went through) is undergoing a massive shift, as big as the ones that have hit the other industries that have been rebuilt by the connection and leverage the internet brings. And yet, too much of the new work is simply coming up with a slightly more efficient way to deliver lectures plus tests.”

He suggested that the alternative is “doing.”

I just finished listening to Stephen Downes talk as a guest at Bryan Alexander’s Future Trends Forum.  Neat conversation, and one thing Stephen discussed was the evolution of elearning from 1.0 (client-subscription) to 2.0 (content syndication and learner as prosumer) to the coming 3.0 (a community-based learning experience rather than a hosted event).  I probably did not capture that well … but Stephen is not the only one to discuss the idea of learner as prosumer.  Chrissy Hellyer blogged a few months back about encouraging students to become prosumers.

One of my doctoral students blogged yesterday about the changing nature of work, and since he is an assistant principal in a high school, “work” for him involves education.  He noted:

“… Change often comes much more slowly than futurists predict, however, and K-12 education is a perfect example. The Prince article reminded me of some initiatives that I saw during my own grade school experiences: We had open-walled classrooms in first and second grade, “positive action training” provided by school counselors in the classroom in fourth grade, and interdisciplinary learning units in middle school. None of these initiatives lasted. The only time open and fluid space was used in first grade was when we gleefully flipped pencils off the edges of our desks and over the walls (no one ever fessed up, either).

If today’s flexible spaces, maker spaces, collaborative, project-based learning opportunities, and non-traditional schedules are to succeed (and I do believe that they can!), it will take deep commitment from stakeholders of all stripes to make it happen. The chances an empowered, productive wirearchy will develop in K-12 education completely on its own are very slim. Paradoxically, it may take a top-down approach to breathe life into the grassroots energy needed to maintain a more horizontally-empowered education system. Unfortunately, for the last 20+ years, we have been more adept at standardizing assessments than empowering learners, to apply Westerman, Bonnet, and McAfee’s standardizing-empowering paradox…”

I responded by citing one of my favorite leadership books from way back in 1996, which was not published by a person but rather by a large team. In The Paradox Principles, the Price Waterhouse Change Integration Team listed five paradoxes that would challenge tomorrow’s leaders:

  • Positive Change Requires Significant Stability
  • To Build an Enterprise, Focus on the Individual
  • Focus Directly on Culture, Indirectly
  • True Empowerment Requires Forceful Leadership
  • In Order to Build, You Must Tear Down

Each of these paradoxes is still relevant nearly a quarter century later, and the fourth – that true empowerment requires forceful leadership – spoke to Ned’s point.

But is forceful leadership required because there are too many “bricks” in the way?  How can we – in both K12 and higher education – move from education to learning … from learning to doing?  This is a cultural issue…and leaders are responsible in large part for the culture of an institution.

And if we do not address this culture …

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey, teachers, leave them kids alone
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall (Roger Waters, 1979)



4 thoughts on “Are You Another Brick?

  1. One encouraging sign is that many schools are eschewing traditional state-level report cards in favor of more comprehensive “Quality Profiles”, “portrait of a graduate” documents, and more that represent an effort to develop metrics that reflect the development of the whole child, not an over-reliance on standardized tests.

    Two other things I stumbled upon this week as I thought about networks/wirearchy, the changing roles of leaders, and paradoxes…

    1. In “The Simpsons and Philosophy”, Carl Matheson pointed out that the “quotationalism” and “density of allusion” of The Simpsons actually reflects what he termed a “crisis of authority.” This makes perfect sense in a postmodern world awash in nihilism. Perhaps without a comprehensive view of where education is progressing, we have also turned to the history of education as our main topic, specifically referencing the 20th century industrial model and the continuous assembly line-versus-progressivism debate. Must we leaders be more futuristic, then?

    2. Shifting to paradoxes, I recall (and I think it was Gordon Wood) a historian making the point that “the Founders” essentially ensured that a generation such as theirs would never again exist in America due to the forces of democratization that they themselves unleashed. I thought about that this week as we talked about wirearchy replacing hierarchy. Do we have the courage to unleash creative forces that will re-define our roles but could greatly improve our field?

  2. Thanks, Ned. To your point “…Do we have the courage to unleash creative forces that will re-define our roles but could greatly improve our field?”, I started Dave Weinberger’s new book last night, Everyday Chaos. His opening point is that the world is vastly more complex and unpredictable than we’ve allowed ourselves to see, so many of our foundational assumptions on “knowing things” has been upended by big data and AI. Deep learning machines are finding patterns that defy explanation…yet lead to better solutions. As we partner with AI, are we willing to “trust” something we cannot understand or explain?

  3. As we consider moving from education to learning and from learning to doing, one of the initiatives that I am involved in is maintaining board-certification of physicians through continuous learning and competency assessment. In the past, physicians had to pass a comprehensive examination at the beginning of their professional career and, once board-certified, did not get re-tested for a period of 10 years (for most medical specialties). Today, many medical boards are moving to “continuous certification” whereby a physician is tested each year, using a smaller subset of questions, and must complete a predefined number of continuing medical education credits and demonstrate clinical competency through the attestation of a supervising peer (generally, the Chief of Staff). Physicians who do not meet performance standards are offered an opportunity for remediation to improve their skills. It is a different approach to lifelong learning and one that will be interesting to follow over the next decade to see if it improves the quality and safety of patient care.

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