Nostalgia: An Impediment to Transformation of Public Education

Posted on: Thu, 06/22/2017 - 09:00

I recently took an on-line quiz about things I could remember (like little wax soda bottles with sugary syrup inside). When I finished the quiz, my score labeled me as “older than dirt.”  Okay, I do remember the 1960s, and I embarked on my teaching career in the 1980s; so I guess I’m old.

And while I have lots of fond memories of the “days gone by,” I also know there are a lot of things I would not want to go back to—manual typewriters, mimeograph machines, and filmstrip projectors. There are also many things I have now that I would not want to give up—microwave ovens, central air conditioning, and computers. I wonder what innovations my children will consider indispensable when they too are “older than dirt?”

All of our lives are different now than they were 20, 30, or 40 years ago. Most of us not only accept change, but embrace it and look forward to it. In fact, many of us get impatient for the next new innovation or improvement to modern life – just ask the people who line up whenever a next generation smart phone is released.

There’s one area of our lives though that seems immune from our affection for change, one area where nostalgia still reigns—school.

If I asked you to close your eyes and picture a phone, most of you would see this, not this. But in many cases, when we think of schools or classrooms, our minds automatically go to images that our grandparents would easily recognize.

Tiny desks. Neat rows. Textbooks. Teachers lecturing. Students completing worksheets. We start school after Labor Day and we end in June. We still get letter grades. We still have to earn a certain number of Carnegie Units to get a high school diploma.

Image removed.But not only do we still picture and accept these dusty pictures of school and education, we pine for them! Many of us are satisfied with keeping things just like they were when “I was in school?” We tell ourselves that the education we got, or our parents got, or our grandparents got, was just fine. Why change? The better question is “Why would we not change?” Today’s graduates will enter a world far different than the one their grandparents or even their parents experienced!

Nostalgia hurts education. We need to be delivering instruction in a way that aligns with current research, particularly in the area of brain research. We need to take advantage of technological advances that will allow us to truly personalize learning for students and teachers. We need to move to 12 month school schedules and perhaps even increasing the number of days for instruction.

Now I know that we are making some changes in our schools that begin to address some of the ideas I have proposed, but we as a nation and a state have not made any substantial changes to how we approach “school.” If we wouldn’t expect our children to use our grandparents’ phone, why would we expect them to use their school? We are in the second decade of the 21st Century—the time to start creating our 21st Century schools was 20 years ago! The time to change is now!

Am I undervaluing nostalgia? Tell me what you think on Twitter @FCPSMDSuper. And whether or not you agree with this post, if you enjoyed it, please feel free to share it on Facebook or Twitter.