American Consequences - September 2020

One reason for their awkward silence in education technology’s time of need could be the same old problem all this school- reopening confusion (and every ambitious school-reform idea) makes embarrassingly apparent... It’s possible school was pretty much OK the way it was . Now that it’s gone, we mostly just want it back. No one of the Jobs or Zuckerberg clans came through to save the day. Don’t these people traffic in disruptive paradigm shifts? Every presidential administration since the Department of Education was established has attempted some manner of sweeping “school reform.” Reagan’s doomy portrait of American public schooling in A Nation At Risk inspired a panic that was, in retrospect, probably a little overblown... or at least not immediately productive or especially helpful. It was 20 years before a sweeping policy plan to test whether schools were actually working – No Child Left Behind – passed with support from both parties. But then 15 years later, another new school reform law came along, the Every Student Success Act, which had equal bipartisan support, and reversed what a policy wonk would call its core mandate. Apart from the confusion among teachers and parents that results from every new batch of bold changes to the way we teach and learn in this country! , very little about American schooling has actually changed in the last 40 years. It’s

area with benches.” Benches before which a magister holds forth and instructs his discipuli . Those were the days... Of course now, in an era recently redefined by terror of germs flying among captive crowds, the image of a bloviator in a toga wetly enunciating his consonants to a sea of vulnerable young immune systems – I mean, minds – should worry us. While there are documented cases of otherwise healthy children contracting COVID-19, ostensibly recovering and then suffering lingering symptoms for months, the greatest risk is still to the old and infirm. Most primary- school-age children learn better in school. But every one of those learners represents another interconnected web of people to worry about even more urgently... parents, grandparents, other older relatives, other teachers – anyone for whom viral transmission presents a graver risk. We live in a nation approaching 200,000 dead by a new disease that the lasting effects of which we know next to nothing about. Not knowing makes the daily business of school – which depends on patterns of predictable yearly progress – functionally impossible, but also urgently necessary.

It should have been the breakthrough moment for high-tech innovation in education reform... Just about every

billionaire tech philanthropist has his or her own patented plan to save public schooling – all of them expensively debuted to varyingly underwhelming results. But no one of the Jobs or Zuckerberg clans came through to save the day. Don’t these people traffic in disruptive paradigm shifts?

American Consequences


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