Here’s What We Have to Stop Pretending.

Greg Pearson — the mind behind the Better Together blog — tagged me a few weeks back as a part of Scott McLeod’s We Have to Stop Pretending project.  The thinking behind the project is that it is time to confront the unproductive truths that keep us from making schools different.

Here’s my contribution:

If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that “engaging learners” and “empowering learners” are the same thing.

Want the kids in your classroom to be truly invested in the work they are doing at school?  Help them to uncover and investigate their own passions and interests.  Give them opportunities to work together with peers on meaningful issues.  Let purpose stand at the center of your classroom instruction.  Invested learners are learners who recognize that they have power as individuals and as contributors to the world around them.


If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that “knowing” and “learning” are the same thing.  

Sometimes, I’m amazed by the breadth of the curriculum that I’m expected to teach.  Here are just a few of the things that the eleven year olds in my science classroom are supposed to know by the end of the year:

The difference between loamy and sandy soil.

The difference between comets and meteorites.

The difference between the speed of sound in solids and liquids and gasses.

The difference between elements and molecules.

The difference between pistils and stamens and anthers and stigmas and styles.

The difference between the pinna and the cochlea and the cilia.

The difference between stomata and xylem and phloem.

You see the problem, right?  Grinding through my fact-driven curriculum — which John Seely-Brown calls explicit knowledge — leaves little time for me to turn my students into learners.  The brutal truth is that my kids never tap into the power of learning networks or use conversations with peers to challenge their thinking or identify bias or problem solve together because I’m too damn busy trying to get them to memorize facts that they are going to forget by the end of the year.

Will Richardson has been pushing my thinking around all of this lately. His point:  Filling curricula with explicit knowledge is pointless simply because explicit knowledge is growing exponentially.  We can’t possibly keep up.  Our goal should be to develop LEARNERS.  Our schools are good at developing KNOWERS.

If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that the best schools have the best test scores.

What worries me the most about using testing as a tool for identifying accomplished teachers and successful schools ISN’T that someone might discover that I’m a crappy teacher or that my school is a crappy school.  What worries me is that our current generation of assessments don’t measure much of anything worth measuring.  Until THAT truth changes, test scores are a useless indicator of just how successful schools are.

If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that kids are motivated by technology.

Kids aren’t motivated by technology.  Period.  End Stop.  #nuffsaid

If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that poverty doesn’t matter.

One of the things that saddens me as a classroom teacher is knowing full well that I have students in my classroom who live lives of almost constant struggle beyond our school.  Whether they are homeless or hungry or going home to unsafe neighborhoods or responsible for babysitting siblings while their moms and dads work three jobs to make ends meet, poverty steals opportunities from kids that I care about.  Yet we do little in America to acknowledge the impact that this struggle has on the learners in our classrooms.  Poverty must become a policy priority if we are truly serious about ensuring student success.

So what five things do YOU think we need to stop pretending if we are going to make schools different?

Whip up a blog post and tag it with #makeschooldifferent .  Or leave me a comment and I’ll post your thoughts in a future Radical post.




2 thoughts on “Here’s What We Have to Stop Pretending.

  1. Alandea Waidler

    Hi Bill, great blog. I’d love to get in touch with you about a thought leadership piece that JAMF Software, a leader in Apple device management software for schools and businesses, is putting together based on responses to a couple questions from a very select group of EdTech experts. The article will be posted and pushed out through social media during the ISTE conference (June 28-July 1). Each expert will be highlighted with their Twitter handle and the name of their company/firm/blog (or whatever else, you name it!) along with their response. We’re looking to get responses from around 10-15 experts and would be thrilled if you could participate. Would you mind shooting me an email so I can tell you more, and share the questions?


    Alandea Waidler
    Kulesa Faul for JAMF Software

  2. Dan Tricarico

    Not only are these great points, they are exactly the things that no one is talking about. I’ve been telling everyone at my school who will listen that my students are becoming every increasingly DIS-engaged and that WE ARE LOSING THEM. We can’t continue to teach the way we’ve always taught. And this post is a great comment on the direction in which we might consider going. Thank you for your always interesting take on things.

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