Hoping for more from our schools?
For your children?
For your community?
Are you searching for a better vision of education?
You’ve been waiting for TREK.
Our nation has been unwilling or unable to facilitate the entrance of new models
to replace the old public schools.
—Clayton Christensen in Disrupting Schools, 2011
In the early days of the Coalition of Essential Schools, TREK spawned many of the great small schools that endure today. TREK also became shorthand for a thoughtful community journey to perform what Theodore Sizer called the most important educational task of our times: to evolve the institutions and practices that assist learning.
ERC is pledging to make the potential, excitement and power of education renewal available again, to families, communities and schools who believe that change is overdue --through TREK.
At ERC we think the timing is right. The limitations of the core architecture of schools, minted in the 1890’s, make our communities increasingly vulnerable. Look at the plan’s basic elements: all kids of the same age, all together, all day long, from kindergarten to twelfth grade; all students studying the same facts, at the same time, with the same methods. Students plucked from a contextual and larger world environment and confined to classrooms in 50-minute doses. None of the above ideas based on any learning science or good parental instincts.
Increasing numbers of smart, committed, hardworking people – like you – are frustrated by the continual retreat to unproductive ideas. In the face of bigger needs, our efforts are not improving a faulty system.
How far behind we’ve left Sizer’s challenge! Policy makers don’t tread there. They see little need to question the “arrangements”. What’s passing for innovation these days? Add an hour to the day, adopt literacy software or get more computers?
As soon as you start thinking of kids as data points, you’re in trouble.
—Sir Ken Robinson
Even good-hearted attempts to tackle the status quo end up with little to show. I was invited to be a project advisor to an I3 grant initiative a few years ago. Despite adequate money, convening and networking, the effort achieved very little and ultimately hung up on the same rocks as dozens of other such attempts I’ve seen. Just think of such projects as the $500 million Annenberg Challenge or the more recent $100 million gift to Newark schools. Now, Ms. Jobs want to lend her checkbook to a new effort. (Check out Jal Mehta’s Allure of Order, if you haven’t yet. He gives us some critical perspective. ) Even the latest big ideas like Common Core, PARCC, or blended learning don’t get at the outdated structures, culture and conditions which do not correlate with what we know about learning.
So, back to TREK. What we are hearing in diverse settings nationwide is that people are missing and wanting a chance to imagine more than the present arrangements offer.
If you’re still reading, you know what I’m talking about.
TREK addresses three inescapable criteria for school redesign and renewal.
People with the education “reins” underestimate the complex interplay among the three core aspects of school:
- Social/inter-personal— how do we treat each other?
- Cultural— what matters here that we pass on as valuable, without examination?
- Intellectual— do we learn to use our minds well? (Although this third aspect is often referred to as “academic” mission, its often more about who does well and who doesn’t, not to be confused with using one’s mind well.)
Each of these core aspects has associated with it deeply felt values, personal experiences, and generations of institutional practices – the 1998 state basketball champs, the drama club, National Honor Society, concerts, teacher open house – all of which rally aunts, uncles and neighbors to the school and bind the cultural fabric tighter. Other memories and feelings, the more social and intellectual reside in the shadow of the cultural. We tend to forget the divisions among those who felt smart and those who didn’t. Somewhere in that shadow, too, are bus rides or car pools, the cafeteria, passing time; even if we experienced them anonymously, joyfully, or painfully, it was life, experienced at a vulnerable time. We carry forward trace images, some lasting and recognizable, most far less so, but all part of our “education”. We know we can give our kids far better. Can we muster the will?
No room – or excuse – for nostalgia
People often resist change because they’re anxious about losing something. Saying goodbye to a vague yet familiar notion of what school means is powerful stuff. Add to that, it’s uniquely human to want to pass down a replica of what we’ve experienced --to our kids, to the next generations. Our instincts crave a common bond of experience, of ideas, of values. This is why we must work in particular ways, with the “whole village”, to envision something kinder at the least, a journey more humane, engaging, rewarding, and memorable.
Loss need not be part of renewal. We don’t need to throw away what works for kids, we CAN keep a lot of what we treasure! That becomes uplifting and fuels the work of TREK. But success takes a team, a team with enough time, open-mindedness and self-discipline to tackle the toughest job in education: re-imagining it.
The first steps of the journey also require outside help --high-touch and high-skills. The vision and change leadership required to manage the feelings and ideas attached to the social, cultural and intellectual worlds of our schools is exacting. ERC has created and employs a “re-design spiral” that tracks and informs the arc of the change process required. Design, planning, and facilitation must be at once forensic and humanistic.
TREK is not for the faint of heart, nor for those who want the kind of quick and easy fix we’re conditioned to accept as real change. TREK is not for those who believe deeply in the current model simply because it has benefitted them, or for those who think that the teachers and kids are what need improving.
If you want in, we’ll come to you. We’ll bring you the most skilled facilitators, technology, and leadership coaches, the highest quality public engagement support, the most creative change process designers, and the most experienced scenario and school redesign experts. The hard parts - building the will, assembling a team and doing the work of creating your vision to pursue – that’s up to you!
For more information or to begin a TREK yourself, email today: firstname.lastname@example.org today!
Please note: CES schools— if you feel it’s time to re-invent yourselves, you’re especially welcomed! Please email us about our plans for supporting TREK in CES schools.
Thanks for reading.