“The real role of leadership in education is not and should not be command and control. The real role of leadership is climate control; creating a climate of possibility, and if you do that, people will rise to it and achieve things you did not anticipate and couldn't have expected.” Sir Ken Robinson, TED Talk "How to Escape Education's Death Valley"What is ultimately wrong with No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Common Core State Standards? Each of these initiatives are a product of what Sir Ken Robinson calls mechanistic thinking. In mechanistic thinking, education is seen as an “industrial process” done to kids. You subject kids to this process, and at the end, you test them, then declare (or not declare) them college and career ready, educated, or whatever term you choose. As Robinson points out in his TED Talk "How to Escape Education's Death Valley," subjecting kids to these kinds initiatives and the standardization movement means millions of children have been left behind.
Why are so many children left behind in the current American system of education? The whole problem, according to Robinson, is simple: American education "contradicts 3 principles under which human life flourishes." These principles are: 1) Human beings are naturally different and diverse, 2) Human beings are naturally curious creatures, and 3) Human life is inherently creative. By contradicting these principles, we are losing students because the American system of education ignores the very things that allow humans to thrive and survive.
There's no denying that these fundamental principles of humanity are ignored in an education culture where standardization and conformity are elevated above principles of diversity, curiosity, and creativity. But what can we do, as school leaders, to create a "climate of possibility and creativity?" Perhaps we can begin to establish that climate by doing three things:
1. We can treat students as different and diverse, not as standardized unfinished products to which we "add value" through subjecting them to the same curriculum and the same tests. Education under No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and the Common Core is all about conformity and standardization, not diversity. Each of the initiatives is about narrowing the curriculum so that we can test kids the same way, compare their scores, and boast or censure what we have done educationally. Instead of moving more and more toward standardization, we need to be moving to personalization. Under a personalized education system we capitalize on students' natural talents and abilities, not stifle them with standard curriculum and standardized testing. As 21st century school leaders we need to focus not on data entirely, but more on individual students. Drop out rates, proficiency rates, growth rates are not the center of what we should be doing as educators. Kids are.
2. We can recognize that human beings are naturally curious creatures, and create systems of education that value curiosity above all else. As Robinson points out, “Curiosity is the engine of achievement.” Yet in our efforts to treat our education system mechanistically, we stamp our curiosity with standardized curriculum and standardized testing. We treat “teaching” as a delivery system, when it should be treated as the "art of mentally stimulating, provoking, and engaging children in learning." Robinson points out that the dominate culture in American education does not focus on teaching and learning, it focuses on testing. We have turned our schools into places where the culture is about compliance, not curiosity. As 21st century school leaders we need to make human curiosity central to our school cultures, not compliance.
3. We can recognize in our schools that human beings are inherently creative and turn them into places where creativity is valued. We spend our whole lives creating; it is a part of who we are as humans. Our role as educators should be to awaken this creativity and power it up, instead, we are too busy standardizing everything and stifling creativity. Our students should be engaged creatively, not engaged in test prep and testing at the expense of all else. As 21st century school leaders we need to create a school culture that values creativity above standardization and conformity.
Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talk: How to Escape Education's Death Valley
As long as policymakers at the national level, state level, and the district level continue to see education as this mechanistic, industrial process that is “done to kids” we're going to continue to have an education system that fails a large number of students. Changing our tests and our standards every few years is not going to create a climate of possibility and creativity in our schools. It only perpetuates the mechanistic system of education that has failed many of our kids for over a hundred years.