Era of Conflicting Educational Narratives

project-based-learningWe are living in the era of two educational narratives. One is well known, has been here for ages and is promoted by business CEOs, technology gurus, and policymakers. It’s a narrative that is preoccupied by the old-school problem of how to best “deliver” the content to students using the modern technology.

The other educational narrative is also well known and has been around also for ages. It’s promoted by educators and concentrates on how to entice students to “discover” the content. One of the terms related to this narrative is project-based learning. The mentors introduce teams to projects that they are supposed to solve collaboratively with other classes, schools, or with the community. Students are learning while working on a project. There are organizations that specialize in facilitating the collaboration on a global scale, ex. iEARN.

Since mid-1990s, the education corporations have been digitizing, uploading, and sorting information, defining categories and spitting the content at students at an “optimal” sequence according to algorithms. They extracted narrow, easily quantifiable elements out of the entire educational process and convinced the policymakers that those bits of content were the most important. They saved The Nation at Risk. First by No Child Left Behind, then perfected by Race to The Top. The nation, relieved by the notion that, finally, there is a way to “scientifically” measure the “knowledge” revolved around the scores like around a sport discipline. Online, songs celebrating high scores and video clips of dances mobilizing students to take tests are documenting the hysteria. Schools spend fortune purchasing books, rewriting their curricula and training staff with one goal in sight only—achieve the highest scores possible. That’s the only measurement the superiors in Albany and Washington, DC, respectively, care to see.

Timidly, academia and parents-educators started to raise questions about the sense of education that is revolving around tests. More parents raised their voice lately, after they realized how time consuming, costly and misdirected the prevailing educational narrative has become. The opt-out movement is bringing the discovery narrative to the table, introducing it to the wider public.

An example of this educational narrative in Malverne district is the Robotics team. Several teams work together to solve a problem. Three schools are involved in the project. It’s a successful, proven project and the community is proud of the team.

Similarly, the Black History Studies (BHS) could be approached as a project of the “discovery” educational narrative. The fact that BHS topic resurfaces every year (read the recent post) indicates that it’s important to a group of people who would like to have the BHS class reinstated. But instead of asking the BOE to allocate scarce resources (read the post about eliminating classes), students interested in the BHS could apply the 21st century narrative to advance their cause.

They could find and designate a mentor, either a parent or educator who would help students create a project, research universities in the US and abroad that have the BHS in their curriculum. The students could contact the faculty and students at selected colleges. The colleges, most probably, would establish a team and collectively they would develop a viable program for Malverne HS students. It’s entirely possible that there are federal or private grants available for this kind of project. The grants would help lift the project off the ground.

At that stage of research, the district students would present their project to our community for evaluation. Such a presentation would certainly have a different impact than a discussion on a general level at the BOE meeting. If implemented, in a couple of years, our district could have a successful “school within a school” program. Perhaps, the only one of its kind in Long Island. The community would be proud of their achievement.

Currently, we are living in a transitional period when the two educational narratives coexist. The “delivery” narrative is being pushed from the top by politicians, attorneys, corporations, and spiritualistic judges in charge of education. The “discovery” narrative is looking for its spot in the sunshine. Individual teachers and administrators are working around “rigorous” mandates to create something meaningful in order to prepare students for life. It’s up to parents to educate themselves and join the collaborative environment.

You can get inspired and find information about modern project-based learning in depth (from Yong Zhao) here and (a book by another author, educator) here.

There may be more projects going on in the district I am not aware of. If you maintain a blog, have newspaper clippings, or just keep written records documenting projects, they need to be publicly available so the community is aware and can benefit from the projects.
Time permitting, I plan to post examples of inspirational projects accomplished in public schools thanks to collaborative efforts of the community and school. Subscribe to receive updates via email.



Era of Conflicting Educational Narratives — 5 Comments

  1. There is no question that the discovery method involes critical thinking as opposed to memorization. However, since projects are developed by indivual students, a greater ratio of teachers to students is needed. On the other hand, the delivery method uses the assembly line method of fewer teachers shepherding large groups of learners. How willing are we to spend the money to allow our students to develop the skills necessary to survive in a rapidly changing world?

    • James, I am absolutely certain that we would ask many more questions, should we talk education together. The thought process starts with questioning. There are many parents who don’t even blink when “dropping off” their child at the “day care”. How do we entice them to ask questions?

      • Jan, I wish I knew the answer to your question. Unfortunately Sherwyn is correct about people’s attitude toward education. However, Sherwyn is wrong about Black Studies; it’s important for all people who live in this country.

  2. Jan Kasal, Black History is not a side order, or some elective project concept to be developed. It is as essential to the academic, social, and emotional development of Black children as is History (White History) to the White child. History marginalizes and in many cases, erases the Black experience in books as it is written by those in power who happen to be white. It is a fallacy that Malverne’s limited resources is the problem. You need to evaluate Malverne’s priorities and hidden agendas as new programs emerge and money found mid-year for impromptu positions and patronage while the administration cries scarcity. Lastly, only an informed and willing constituency can make Malverne accountable. Sadly, too many have resigned their education interest.

    • Please, understand the post as my intention to make parents pause and think what learning experience they would want to create for their child. The bare bone required minimum coming from Albany won’t cut it. All you can expect from business representatives is a beautifully designed color brochure offering your child custom-tailored classes conducted online from, for example Denver, CO—in exchange for your voucher. (Which I view as a biggest scheme in education so far I have lived in this country).