The Untouchables

Sometimes the things that need to be questioned the most, are the things we feel we’re least able to question. The parts of the education system that carry the guise of being ingrained, natural, and untouchable. Things that have “always been” and things that will “always be”.


– grade levels

– curriculum

– assessment

– reporting

– timetables

– units

– classes

– classrooms

But if we really want to pursue more agency for students and shift the current paradigm of education, then maybe these are the very things that we should be critically questioning, challenging and re-imagining.

Sometimes this is difficult to do because these human-created systems have seemed to almost calcify overtime to the point where it’s hard to figure out how to remove them, or change them.

But if we ask ourselves George Couros’ famous question…

(Image source – Principal of Change Blog)

… with the intent of creating a place that respects and supports each student’s agency as a learner and a human being and supports the processes of learning as they naturally occur… would those elements and structures be part of the design?

How can we stop seeing these elements as untouchables and start having critical conversations about:

the purpose they serve, or perhaps don’t serve…

the way they support learning, or perhaps inhibit learning

the way the help students flourish, or perhaps prevent students from flourishing

the impact they have, or perhaps their unintended side-effects...

I’m not saying that they’re all bad (or that any of them are bad) I’m just saying that making an informed choice as an education community about the structures and systems we choose to have to support learners and the process of learning, is very different than passively accepting elements of the educational paradigm that have been passed down, or passed off as “untouchable”.

Which “untouchable” elements of the current education paradigm do YOU think need to be critically questioned?


#InnovationInEducation: Challenge the Status Quo*

My student stood agog: “Wow, you type so fast! How do you do that?” I looked down at my keyboard and then back at my student. Do I even bother to explain the QWERTY keyboard set up and how I learned to type to my 1st grader? I mean, will the keyboard even exist in the future? Will touch-typing even be a relevant skill?

It’s odd to think that the QWERTY keyboard is an excellent example of why we need to look at common things with uncommon sight. Why innovation is so vital in our educational systems. Have you ever heard of the Fable of the Keys? Do you know why we have that layout of letters of the home keys? Perhaps you think it was created to improve our speed and efficiency when typing? NO–quite the opposite. It was to slow us down so that those old fashion typewriter keys didn’t get jammed up. Its crazy to think that in an era of such technological impact, that such a simple feature of our computers cannot be revamped to improve our productivity. It’s a bit foolish really that we haven’t adopted another style of the keyboard when you think of it. And it makes me wonder what else we are doing in our world that is relies on 200-year-old technology.

Again, I wonder if the layout of the keyboard of our laptops and devices should be reconfigured to produce faster typing speeds? That’s the most sensible approach, right? ABSOLUTELY NOT! I think about this provocative quote about innovation:Anytime teachers think differently about (3)

And it makes sense, right? Why would we spend all that time and effort when we could be reimagining how we might capture thoughts and ideas? Most of us submit that talk to text will be the way of the future-it’s already a classroom staple for my 1st graders. But I wonder how often in education we just repackage these same sorts of “old” ideas which have gotten standardized into our systems. When you look at the quote by Seymour Papert, a man who brought technology to education, can you think of anything that you are using or doing in your classroom that just recapitulates antiquated practices?

The phrase “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way. Moreover, if the gadgets are computers, the same old teaching becomes incredibly more expensive and biased towards its dullest parts, namely the kind of rote learning in which measurable results can be obtained by treating the children like pigeons in a Skinner box.   –Seymour Papert, father of Constructionism

During Season 4, Episode 3 of IMMOOC, John Spencer described his journey with technology and how his thinking has evolved around its use. As I listened to him speaking about using Scotch tape to mend microfiche, my head just kept unconsciously nodding. Oh, how I could relate! And I wholeheartedly agree with his lesson from this experience.

What is transferable, what is powerful and what stayed forever has been getting to think critically, getting to be creative, getting to problem solve-all of that. To me, when people get focused on the technology, they are going to end up inevitably doing is getting obsessed with the novelty.

I think this is an important lesson for all of us educators to consider. How can we focus on transferable skills vs. technology skills? Is knowing how to touch-type going to be a game changer for my 1st grader’s future OR is understanding how we organize and create systems to improve our capacity to do more and communicate more of our best selves and solve problems the answer?

Obviously, my question is rhetorical. And maybe you are wondering what “QUERTYs” you have in your school culture and classrooms–what old fashion practices and tools are you perpetuating, with or without the use of technology? Let’s start to make genuine progress by challenging and “breaking” them. Because by accepting the “status quo” in education, like un-imagining “the keyboard”, just makes us look slow and stupid.

*This blog post originally was posted on my personal blog: #IMMOOC: WHY THE STATUS QUO MAKES US SLOW AND STUPID

My reason for reposting is that, as rebels, I believe that we should be challenging those aspects of things that are institutional and trying to delve deeper into why they exist and what purpose they serve.