At a time in our history when the world is at risk across a spectrum of issues, challenges and fear for the future, schools are increasingly called upon to act as vectors for change. Yet the very institution of the school stands as a significant barrier to fostering those changes that will have lasting impact on society and the direction and intensity of evolution demanded to ameliorate the risks. In the words of Albert Einstein; Continuing to do what has been done and expecting different results is the very definition of insanity.
The path forward demands innovation in every quarter of society and education must lead society away from where it has been and where it is to an evolution of consciousness. That may well be the planetary imperative for a sustainable future. New measures must be sought for what it means for the human species to thrive economically and environmentally(ecologically). To paraphrase the late Senator and Governor of Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, education and economics are wholly owned subsidiaries of the environment. An ecology of education must emerge as a new paradigm for our collective future. Schools are embedded in the fabric of society and represent the current paradigm for education. It is unlikely that schools will be banished. Accordingly innovation for education means innovation for schools.
Wisconsin has certainly been challenged politically and today hardly resembles the era of progressive politics marked by Gaylord Nelson. Yet a bright spot exists in the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction led by superintendent Tony Evers, PhD who is elected independently and thus afforded some desirable and discernible distance from the ultra conservative politics of the current legislature and governor.
Evers in 2013 convened a group of Wisconsin educators to uncover how innovation could move forward within the existing legal framework for schools. The result was a publication in August 2017, Fostering Innovation in Wisconsin Schools, which can be downloaded. The subtitle is instructive “Beyond Credits and Seat Time and Toward Innovative Practices That Lead To College and Career Readiness.”
Minnesota has made important advances leading nationally by fostering innovative approaches for education with PSEO, Charter Schools and College in the Classroom. While some authors such as Charles Reigeluth(1), Lewis Perelman(2), and Bela Banathy(3) make a strong case for abandoning schools as a path toward a new paradigm for education, I am inclined to agree with Ted Kolderie(4) that realistic advance in school reform must come from within the existing system or systems that currently dominate education. The contribution from Wisconsin may be a useful step forward. While the legal structure of Wisconsin is likely different in important ways from the laws governing education in other states, including Minnesota, it is clearly time to break the mold. Finding cracks in the legal barriers to innovation in education may be an essential step enabling great ideas to move forward.
Kolderie has drawn on his experience and expertise with public policy to craft a series of ideas that may support new innovative initiatives in the existing public school systems of Minnesota, and by extension other states. Minnesota has in the past established 553 Independent School Districts, a number reduced through consolidation. While independence is a valued characteristic it should be fully recognized that every districts is dependent upon state and federal support for the educational programs it delivers. There is also dependency related to the local community support as well as the many other elements that converge inside and outside of what a school district is able to accomplish educationally. It seems fitting, then, to recognize that school districts are not “independent” but rather “co-dependent” a term that my brother Steve Lindgren coined recently(5) and favors as a better, more appropriate, label for our Minnesota school districts. In light of my thinking and writing about Education Ecology, I could not agree more.
- Reigeluth, Charles & Jennifer Karnopp. 2013. Reinventing Schools: It’s Time to Break the Mold.
- Perelman, Lewis J. 1992. SCHOOL’S OUT: A Radical New Formula for the Revitalization of America’s Educational System.
- Banathy, Bela. 1991. Social Systems Design of Education.
- Kolderie, Ted. 2016. The Split Screen Strategy: How to Turn Education into a Self-Improving System; and, Kolderie, Ted. 2017. Thinking Out the How.
- personal communication.