I don’t teach in the 17th century

I don’t teach in the 17th century.

More pointedly, I don’t teach in a 17th century school. I never have.

About a week ago, this quotation from Don Tapscott got tweeted out from a webinar he was doing with Discovery Education Network:

We have the very best schools that 17th century tech can deliver.

Granted, I’m not aware of the context of the quotation.

But, that’s twitter – providing context-free snippets since 2007.

I’d really appreciate it if Tapscott would not say things like this. If he said more, I’d really appreciate it if other people didn’t push out pieces of thoughts.

It’s not that I don’t see the value in making generalizations about all members of a group. When has that ever gone wrong?

Science Leadership Academy is well beyond 17th-century tech.

Phoenix Academy, my previous school, was well beyond 17th-century tech.

Sarasota Middle School, my very first school, was well beyond 17th-century tech.

The counterargument is simple:

These three schools do not represent the norm.

I can’t agree with that. I’ve seen many schools across the country creating amazing content owned by learners.

Look at the work Karl is doing at Arapahoe High School is doing.

Look at the thinking Bud is doing at St. Vrain Valley School District is doing.

Look at the creating Ben is doing.

Look at the connecting Monika is doing.

Look at the pushing Dan is doing.

Look at the teaching Diana is doing.

So long as we continue to say our schools are failing, we’ll never notice success. The statement of failure is generally wrapped around the metric of standardized test scores. While they provide a snapshot of ability, I think we’re all on board the train of thought that recognizes they don’t provide a complete understanding of learners’ understandings and abilities.

Stop asking what’s wrong. Start asking what’s right.

My follow-up question is this. How much tech does it take to push a school into the post-modern age?

Don’t worry about answering, I’ve done some figuring. The official answer:

Three netbooks, one digital projector and a class set of T1-83s.

Aside from avoiding generalizations, we should, perhaps, start to move our thinking to the globalized approach folks have been hoping their kids would adopt.

It might give some perspective.

Schools without electricity in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa are operating without any tech to speak of because the ups and downs of a generator would likely damage any equipment in which they invested.

Schools on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya have graveyards of second-hand monitors donated by well-meaning businesses. The monitors don’t work, and the schools can’t afford to have them properly disposed of.

When Tapscott makes this assertion, and again, I don’t have context, and others re-tweet, perhaps a little humility and perspective are in order.

We’re on the way to building amazing temples of ideas across the world. The teachers mentioned above and countless others I’ve met are working to make learning what it can be. More to the point, they’re meeting with tremendous success.

They’re doing it without racing anywhere.

Those schools without electricity in South Africa, they’re about to harness the power of mobile technologies.

Those schools with the monitor graveyard in Kenya, turns out you only need a handful of working computers to connect to the world.

I’m not certain I’m teaching to the full extent of what 21st-century tech can deliver – 2099 is a fair piece away – but I’m doing alright. So are a lot of others – today.

6 thoughts on “I don’t teach in the 17th century

  1. I would just like to add that I ALSO do not teach in the 17th century.I appreciate provocative statements that get me to reconsider my position on things. But, upon reconsideration, I come to similar conclusions that Zac has in this post. We are not all moving forward at the same pace and some schools are moving in the wrong direction, but I can't see that at this point we have nothing to build on. When I look out at the over 75 schools in our district, I don't see a single one that isn't working toward preparing kids for their future and not the 17th century. Statements like “We have the very best schools that 17th century tech can deliver” don't bring us closer to answers. They don't show great examples and they also don't tell the stories of what our kids are capable of. In fact, such a statement removes all humanity from the situation. Schools are made up of people, and if you spend any time with those people you will realize that all (or very nearly all) want their kids to succeed. There is very little malicious teaching going on. Conversations (and a little money) are the only things that are going to move folks to see the examples that Zac mentions to be valuable for their practice. I guess what I would say to that tweet is this: If you see 17th century schools, what is e-mail? If you see 17th century schools, what is internet based research? If you see 17th century schools, what are professional learning communities? If you see 17th century schools, who is the Discovery Education Network?Not everyone should be in the same place.To label everyone that isn't in your space as hopeless is to disavow everything we know and have created with learning in the past 400 years. Not cool.

  2. Great post Zac. I think the idea of focusing on the negative and failing schools has become the easy option for many people frustrated with the status quo. Where really, like you said many people are doing their best with what they have. Teaching in the 21st century is still about good teaching and everyone seems to have forgotten that. I also agree with Ben: To label everyone that isn't in your space as hopeless is to disavow everything we know and have created with learning in the past 400 years. Not cool.

    • Exactly, Jabiz. Then, there are people making the best of what others have. Look at some of the most heavily trafficked nings like Classroom2.0 or Making Curriculum Pop and you see ideas being generated and germinated and shared and sewn and reaped time and again.It makes me wonder if anyone in those communities has ever written a press release.They are exactly the kinds of stories that need telling. They're insular. Not echo chambers, but definitely locations the non-teaching population would have no reason to look for. Still, I'm thinking the non-teaching pop. would definitely be interested and invigorated to know they exist.

  3. Great post Zac. I think the idea of focusing on the negative and failing schools has become the easy option for many people frustrated with the status quo. Where really, like you said many people are doing their best with what they have. Teaching in the 21st century is still about good teaching and everyone seems to have forgotten that. I also agree with Ben: To label everyone that isn't in your space as hopeless is to disavow everything we know and have created with learning in the past 400 years. Not cool.

  4. Great post. This reminds me of the school where I was teaching…when the one computer lab kept getting blocked up, and I needed it for my journalism class and to put together the newspaper.”We need the computers for writing,” I explained.I was told that writing can be accomplished perfectly well with paper and pencil.I suppose I should have said that I need the computers for digital design and layout purposes. But, you know, I sort of thought that was obvious.And yet–it could be worse. No electricity? Hardly any computers?But we are in a major metro area, not the wilds of Africa, and we have so many new teachers who know what can be done, as well as many others who are terrified of what those darn computers are going to force them to deal with.

    • I hear what you're saying here.The next question is what are you doing or what needs to be done to give the teachers permission to play and explore and learn and create? What will encourage them to keep moving?

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