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This Isn't An Education Debate

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As you may have noticed, education has become a hot topic of late. President Obama spoke to the nation's school children again this year. In Arne Duncan, we have the most activist Secretary of Education in memory. "Waiting for 'Superman' " and MSNBC's Education Nation have created discussions and debates that are, in theory, about education in this country. That should be a good thing. But it's not.

We should have a great debate in this country about education. Educational ideas are -- and should be -- controversial. The space between people like Alfie Kohn and Robert Marzano, between Deborah Meier and Ed Hirsch, could fill volumes. How we teach, what we teach, how we assess students... these ideas should be debated and discussed at dinner tables and PTA meetings across this country.

That's not the discussion we're having.

What is going on right now has little to do with education. We are having a labor debate masquerading as an education debate. And that's an important debate to have, but it's not really about education, and we should recognize that.

The conversation we should have is actually about education. Most high schools in this country are still structured off of the Taylor Scientific Method decades after business moved on. We still, in so many classrooms, put the desks in rows and put textbooks on the desks and expect learning to happen. In too many schools the innovations that have touched every other aspect of our society are absent. And in too many schools, the only thing that matters is how well students perform on someone else's test.

I say as both an educator and a parent -- we need a great debate about education in this country.

We should be asking ourselves -- what do we need our schools to be? What do we hope for our children? How are we going to modernize our schools so that they can change with the changing times? What do our children need from schools and how are we going to teach to meet those needs?

We're not going to get there if we expect the politicians and the media to start these conversations. These conversations have to happen in cities and towns all over this country. Parents and children and educators need to take the time to come together and have these conversations. We need to understand that without a vision of what we want our schools to be, reform is destined to fail.

So where do we go from here? What can we do?

  • Write to MSNBC and demand that the next Education Nation segments focus on how we teach and learn and not on the charter vs. non-charter debate. MSNBC's address is: NBC News, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10112
  • Go to your local school board meetings and ask them how they are going to modernize the schools in your district. Ask them how they see the new tools that kids have at their disposal can -- and should -- change the way we teach and learn. Ask to sit on the committee that is drawing up the technology plan.
  • Organize conversations in the schools in your neighborhood -- ask the principal to hold an education summit on a Saturday that brings together community members and educators and parents and students and asks the hard questions about what our schools can be and the steps necessary to get there.

We deserve a great conversation about education in this country -- better than the one we're seeing now.