The answer to “will it scale?” is agency and empowerment

When people question progressive, student-centered education reform with “Yes, but will it scale?” – the implication is usually, “I can’t see this working if you make everyone do it like robot cogs in a giant edu-factory.”

The real answer to “will it scale” is  — yes, but what we must scale is empowerment and agency, not rigid process.

Example: How Paul Weertz helped stabilize the tiny Detroit neighborhood you almost never hear about

So Paul Weertz (a beloved educator, not surprisingly) resurrected a bombed out neighborhood in Detroit. How? By developing relationships with neighbors and treating people with respect, including the kids. By tackling problems before they get out of hand. But  mostly by caring and hard work. Can this happen in other neighborhoods? Will it scale? Could it scale?

It could, but not in the conventional way. The answer is not to write down everything Paul did and then demand that other would-be neighborhood saviors do exactly the same thing. The answer would be to inspire them by showing it can be done, offer practical lessons that have worked (not rigid recipes), and support them as they do it.

That’s what “scale” should mean.

Example:  UN Report Says Small-Scale Organic Farming Only Way To Feed The World

This report says that to feed the world, we need small farms, not mega-farm corporations. We need crop diversity, not mono-culture. We need to teach good farming practices that reduce the need for chemicals. We need to do this even though it diverts money from corporations that want to sell more chemicals to mega-farmers, even if it drives up food costs. If that’s not a metaphor for what’s going on in education right now, I don’t know what is.

The report links global security and escalating conflicts with the urgent need to transform agriculture toward what it calls “ecological intensification.” The report concludes, “This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers.”

So the way to scale is not to focus on the tonnage of food produced even if it wrecks the environment or decimates local economies, but to support the entire eco-system of food growing. And that focus is to teach each and every farmer how to be the best farmer possible.

This is the way to scale good education, too. Empowered students require empowered teachers who have agency over their classroom and curriculum.

Is it a perfect answer? No. Will there be some teachers better than others, some classrooms more welcoming, some schools more successful? Sure, of course. But pretending that we can crush teachers and students spirits into a mono-culture of test-defined success is worse.

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