Building a fragmented ‘non-system’ of well-meaning, specialized programs

Twenty-two years ago [now 25], while analyzing why so little of what is known to work gets applied in practice, Lisbeth Schorr wrote of “traditions which segregate bodies of information by professional, academic, political, and bureaucratic boundaries” and a world in which “complex intertwined problems are sliced into manageable but trivial parts.” Around the same time, Sid Gardner wrote that “we end up contributing our money, and more important, our political and spiritual energy, to building a fragmented ‘non-system’ of well-meaning, specialized programs.” Sadly, both observations are still true today.

From A KIDS COUNT Special Report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation – Early Warning! Why Reading by the End of Third Grade Matters. 2010.

Dumber or Just Different?

This week, a colleague at school circulated the email below to a large number of faculty. The content of the inquiry has caused me to really think about some things. Here are a few of them:

  • Kudos to this educator for soliciting dialogue about an important learning issue! I love that instincts were to create a space for discussion and collaboration.
  • Thanks to this educator (and others who designed the PD day) for identifying a way to use in-service time for self-identified interests and innovations!
  • Could the texts we are asking students to read be part of the issue…rather than the length of the texts?
  • Years and years ago, was a similar message part of a tribal campfire discussion? “Villagers, we are having a harder and harder time getting children to tell stories around the campfire. Their oral memories are terrible! They want to look at these things called books. What should we do?” [please excuse the reductionist, less-than-accurate historical detail here]
  • Don’t people who write long books do so by examining small dollups of thinking? Don’t writers of long texts do so by writing smaller dollups of writing?
  • I read a lot of “sound bites” that I categorize with modern day tools so that I “study” an issue intensely from a number of different, inter-connected perspectives. When we think about a printed, long text, isn’t that exactly what we have access to via the words that the author decided to record – all the synthesized thinking that went into the recording of the text?
  • Why do we educators sometimes assume that just because the “kids don’t do it in school, they must not do it?” I am certain that our students are choosing to read and immerse themselves in some longer, richer texts…not because they are assigned in school, but because they are interesting outside of school.
  • Let’s search for the “both/and solution.” Students – all learners – should be able to do both/and…learn in sound bites and backchannels, as well as in longer, deeper texts, as well as…

Dear Colleagues,

Some of you may have seen Bob Ryshke’s recent posting of Mark Bauerlein’s article on thoughtful reading, “Too Dumb for Complex Texts.”  In a similar vein, I offer you a short blog post called “Are We Really Becoming More Stupid?”  Make sure you read the response, too:

The post and the response encapsulate neatly two different arguments about the way we (or some of us?) read today. 

My own experience in class over the last 2-3 years has been that of an increasing student unease with spending time with texts or even passages, and I have been wondering whether it is some way related to a rapidly emerging digital culture that privileges sound-bites, personal opinion (not informed judgement), and multi-tasking.  We have even seen some of our faculty peers engaging in technological multi-tasking by tweeting each other during presentations (so-called “back-channeling”).

I would be very interested in participating in a collaborative discussion with some of you about encouraging our students to read slowly and deeply — to give complex texts enough time to breathe.  The next in-service day looks like the perfect time to do this.  Let me know if you’re interested, and let’s start working on a reading list and/or an agenda for the day.

Finally, I thought of this TED talk…