Recently I had the privilege of attending and speaking at the South Denver Q Ideas Conference. It was truly wonderful to hear from passionate individuals from all walks of life. What I appreciated the most about each of the speakers was the intention to change the narrative and focus on the humanity in their respective realms of influence. This was a collection of change makers who are transforming the world by choosing to start with people. Amazing!
Below is the transcript of my Q Ideas talk about education reform:
Everyone in this room, and I would venture to guess, who will watch this video or read this blog post, have one thing in common: Education. And in a very real way, this commonality makes us all experts in education. We’ve all been through it and likely have varying degrees of opinion about how that worked for us and what needs to change. Because of our shared expert status, we hold assumptions about what education is and needs without really realizing it. Education reform is a hot topic in the media and in politics right now and we hear words like “no child left behind” and “race to the top” and then frame the conversation by talking about rigor, and in terms of tests, and standards, and competition with the rest of the world, and scores and grades. In a lot of ways, this expert status and these assumptions hold us back from making the changes needed in education. We assume things like schools must include tests and grades. How else will we know if a student knows something? How will we know if we’ve done a good job educating.
When I decided to start a school 4 years ago, it was motivated by one thing: students who have names. I mention that they have names, because too often when we make decisions about education reform, we make these sweeping statements about “students” and very quickly they become numbers, and scores, and faceless beings. I was a teacher who saw that I had all these incredibly brilliant CREATED individuals who had names and stories to go with those names, but were being made to look exactly the same. Being asked to fit the same mold, to learn things at the same time. I had this sense of urgency to change things for these kids. Because I knew their names, I knew their stories. This is Camryn and Maddie, our youngest students when I started Anastasis Academy. When we make decisions at Anastasis, we do so with these two in mind. We do so knowing these students and these stories. Kids don’t have the luxury of waiting for us to get this right. They keep growing.
The problem with most education reform is that it is continually attempts to change surface level systems while hoping for deep systemic change as a result. What we actually end up with at the school level is new mandates. We hear politicians wax poetic about the new rigorous curriculum, the new testing mandates that are going to ensure that kids get the best, new technology in classrooms. Everything gets turned upside down and inside out, and the end result is the same, the new push ends up in a heap shoveled to the side when the next new idea comes along.
At Anastasis, we’ve been camped out in Romans 12 for a few weeks with our students. It strikes me that the idea of renewing our minds is exactly what is needed in education. With all the new initiatives that are added, we never really change our minds about what education is and what it needs. We continue approaching the problem with the same assumptions and no matter what new shine we add, the result is the same. Swirl.
And so this is my challenge for all of us. A renewing of our minds. A stripping away of the assumptions of what education must look like and starting with the most important thing. Students who are uniquely created. Students who have names and with those names stories. At Anastasis Academy what we do looks vastly different from what you see in most schools. We didn’t make change for the sake of change. We made it for Camryn and for Maddie, and for all of our other students with names.
And so when we engage the world of education from that standpoint, it looks much more like an unleashing students who are capable of the extraordinary. Starting from the assumption that we have students who have a unique purpose and gift for the world, we offer learning fueled by curiosity and passion instead of the test. We give students opportunities to learn how to properly manage their freedom rather than sit in desks and rows. We model mindfulness and community. We provide opportunities for growth rather than stifling learning with a grade that ends it.
Maddie and Camryn are more than a collection of facts that they’ve memorized. These young women have absolute genius that this world needs. When we think about education, it has to begin with the humanity, with the students that have names. We must stop focusing on the finish line (as if learning has one!) and instead engage in this idea of Metanoia, the journey of renewing one’s mind, heart, self, or way of life.