I don’t believe that schools are broken. I know that sounds so non-innovative or whatever, but I don’t care. I see amazing things that happen at my school on a regular basis. I watch what my kids have learned and I’m blown away. I see value in celebrating the small stories of the great things that happen.
That being said, I see broken parts inside the system. I hate the excessive testing. I hate the lack of funding and the crappy teacher pay. I hate the packets that kids fill out and the punitive style of grading. I see systemic racism that we still haven’t tackled and it makes me mad.
In other words, I believe that all systems are flawed, just as the world is flawed and humanity is flawed. This viewpoint shapes how I approach my approach as a public school teacher. But it has me thinking about the approaches you can take when you see problems in the system:
Option 1: Advocate Against the System
If you truly believe that the system is broken and actually believe that the system is harmful or toxic, then you advocate against the system. You speak out loudly about how it is awful and broken and all of that. This isn’t how I view it. I see the system as flawed but not entirely broken. And because of this, I find myself wanting to celebrate the great work that teachers are doing.
Option 2: Create an Alternative Outside the System
I love what they have done in places like the Anastasis Academy in Colorado. They basically said, “Let’s start from scratch and make something new that is meaningful and fits the values we have.” What I love about this is that people like Michelle Baldwin and Kelly Tenkely are open about what is working at their school without ever resorting to bashing the work of the people who are still in the public school system.
Option 3: Create an Alternative Inside the System
Here the idea is to create a separate space that is wildly different inside of the system. When I think of this, I consider places like Kent Innovation High, where it is a public school in a public school district. It’s an amazing space that uses a project-based learning framework while doing things radically different. And yet, they still have to follow many of the policies that are a part of the system.
Option 4: Change the System from the Inside
This is the space I inhabit right now. I push for inquiry-based, project-based learning inside of a system that does not necessarily support it. Instead of yelling about how awful things are, I find myself wanting to come up with creative alternatives within the system. I’m at a place in my career where I still want to advocate against injustice but I also want to advocate in favor of solutions. I want to figure out what works and help others who are in the system implement these ideas.
Although I tend to get annoyed by people in the first option (especially when it feels like an attack on teachers and when it feels like people are benefitting financially from creating a cottage industry of teacher-bashing), I am glad that there are people pursuing all four options. I’m glad that there are people boldly pointing out the problems in the system. I’m glad that there are people going out on their own and making things that can’t exist inside the system. I’m glad that we are creating new systems within the same school system and I’m glad that we have people who are repurposing the box rather than simply building a new one.
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