Learning is about an awakening to the possibilities that afford the learner avenues to unlock and explore potential. Whether we're simply entering the new year, committing to a new beginning, or choosing to reduce certain stressors that prevent us from living our best lives, the notion of a fresh start can offer the light of hope. While many will reserve the term enlightenment to grand discoveries, the capacity to bring light to dark cannot be understated. Most often, intentions to bring about positive change come from a place of sincerity and good intentions for improvement. With optimism, many of us mark the turning of the calendar year with our ability to stay true to the resolutions we set for ourselves. This idea sounds admirable, but time and time again, we often experience short-term “resolutions” fading out and old routines reemerging. In short, we give way to the comforts of the familiar and eschew the optimism that framed our resolute purpose. This unfortunate occurrence holds true in education, where comfort supersedes any attempt at illuminating the unknowns from which an individual grows, a system progresses, and society advances. From our vantage point, the question becomes, what do we value? Do we continue to celebrate the remnants of systematically isolated resolutions? Or do we transcend the trappings of schooling for the integrated learning approach?
With a deep passion for building learner-centered environments, we’re faced with the constant reality that our current educational systems limit abstract thought by continuing to build upon faulty assumptions. Sadly, this is evident in the daily workings of an institution that celebrates pyrrhic victories that often marginalize the learner to an algorithm. Far too often, hollow achievements such as schools coming off state improvement lists are marked as pedagogical progress. On the surface, such an acknowledgment sounds like something to celebrate because it infers that tremendous growth and improvement in instruction has taken place. As educators for over twenty-five years, we know all too well that an elevated state label such as this is in no way connected to the advancements of progressive educational practices or true growth within our learners. If anything, the need to come off a state list brings about decisions that widen academic gaps by increasing models of departmentalization, intervention pullouts, and data-driven programs. In examining these practices employed to change state designations, it appears that the hierarchical needs of the system are being placed above that of the learner. In short, by celebrating the removal from a questionable state list, many stakeholders are simply acquiescing to formulations that lack innovative thought. Although these quick-start, short-term interventions secured a perceived victory, it is imbued with long-term impacts on the essence of learning.
By merely scratching the surface, one can clearly identify the factors that contributed to this label of “good standing.” A label that comes at a point in history where the academic gaps within our learners have widened to unprecedented levels. In our estimation, this disconnect only exacerbates the tremendous inequities that exist. At a time when students would benefit most from an integrative and competency-based approach to learning, a message is being shared that all is well and progress has been made. Being active facilitators who closely observe our learners, we can attest to the significant academic, social, and sometimes emotional deficiencies that erode confidence. This is evident with our current fifth-grade grade learners, who were remote or hybrid throughout much of their fundamental primary years. The fragmented learning that has defined their journey has led to weak foundations in their ability to read, write, and calculate fluently. However, this is not surprising when a culture of learning is shifted by prioritizing the need to increase the number of students taking state assessments. In the end, this shift communicates a message that politics and self-interest are the driving features of an institution that would continue moving forward by moving back to the failed practices of the past.
Perhaps the most striking element of this reality is the omission of the terms learner and learning. Unfortunately, in many districts forced to address invalid state labels, the essence of this noble profession is rarely introduced to the dialogue. In literal terms, the students become numbers in an algorithm predicated on hierarchical needs. Interestingly, this communicated truth is hidden under the myth that assessment results are utilized for enhanced planning purposes. Neither abstract nor innovative, the decision to drive instruction toward a systematic need speaks volumes to institutional values. In reverting to a factory model, we question how the page can be turned to a new light if the system continually takes precedence over that which we should value most; the learner.