Anticipating an Educational Revolution

Tweet screenshotI got a message today from Carolyn Foote, aka technolibrary on Twitter, with a link to this article in the New York Times – High Cost of Driving Ignites Online Classes Boom.

I’d almost forgotten that we’d gotten off on an interesting tangent at one of the NECC 2008 EdubloggerCon conversations. It was Will Richardson’s discussion group on Here Comes Everybody, the current bestselling book by Clay Shirky. Will has done a couple of terrific blog posts about this book (here’s one), and recently did an interview with the author.

We were talking about revolutions, and whether education is ready for one, and why is it taking so darn long when it’s so obvious that we need one. My comment was that most revolutions don’t happen for the right reasons, they often happen for disconnected reasons that somehow push a mass of people past a tipping point, or when something happens that shocks people out of behaviors that seem set in stone.

And in fact, my example was that gas prices may well be the catalyst for the educational revolution we’ve all been waiting for; that arguing for a revolution may well be a waste of time, but that being prepared may make all the difference.

Chris Lehmann’s recent blog post, Why Educational Change is Hard (and the limits of “Here Comes Everybody” for schools, brings this up in a different way. He writes, “We have to understand, in ways that Shirky describes, why low-risk mediocrity is almost predictably a better outcome than high-risk success.”

Revolutions stall at the gate because of this. Revolutions are high-risk endeavors. “The devil you know…” (which is such a good cliche that you don’t even have to finish the sentence.) Revolutions aren’t planned by committees of well-meaning citizens. Something unpredictable happens, and then history is written by the prepared and the lucky.

Will gas prices be the tipping point for an educational revolution? Perhaps. Will it be the revolution we want? Maybe. I certainly think it has the potential to deliver the kind of systemic, no-boundaries impact that could shake the basic structure of school as we know it.

Once you mess with the bus schedule, can the bell schedule be far behind?

6 Replies to “Anticipating an Educational Revolution”

  1. Too funny, as I thought of you during the interview when Shirky mentioned rising gas prices as having a real effect on higher ed as well. I need to pay attention more when you speak, Sylvia. ;0)

  2. Jumping back into the edweb world and this is the first blogpost I read. Right now, the mediocrity vs success focus stands out. How can we (as teachers? as students? as humans?) be so comfortable with mediocrity?

  3. Interesting ideas Sylvia and it brings me back to something we’ve discussed. It will be the kids that do it. What makes organizations/businesses/governments change isn’t well intentioned bureaucracy but from the ground up. I believe that it’s been inevitable for some time that the students are going to change how the education game is played, the only question is how much are we (the adults) going to be involved in the process.

  4. Sylvia, I, too, have been wondering about this. There have been quite a number of such articles over the past months. I think sometimes change happens because of contagious visionaries, sometimes because of powerful tyrants, sometimes by strong leaders, sometimes by market forces (advertising, trends, media….) sometimes by accident, and sometimes because their is no choice but to change – in this case, pure economics. Perhaps the rising cost of fuel will impact educational change like never before. It certainly is not a good philosophical reason to change, but I think we all need to be ready to adapt and offer sound educational solutions very quickly.

  5. @will at last you see the light 😉

    @anne your question is a tough one, but I think Chris Lehmann’s post (the one I linked to above) lays out the case well. If the risk/benefit ratio is too high, people will stay in uncomfortable situations.

    @kern i’d like to think that will be true! some days i’m less optimistic than others.

    @steve now people are sending me lots of links. maybe a follow up article?

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