The conflagration grows, and I could not be happier to be amongst the flame-throwers. The questions now: how quickly will the fires catch? Will they reach the places that we densely inhabit, or die out on the prairies, largely unnoticed? Will the steady monsoon of inertia drown them out, not because monsoons have ill will towards the fires of innovation, but through inertia, because that is just what monsoons do?
Over the weekend, educators at the front line of innovation mentioned me in long, thoughtful blog posts and, yes, it felt great to be included in their tribe. Josie Holford is the head at Poughkeepsie Day School, a school that has preserved the fires of the Progressive Era, un-extinguished, for decades, not unlike those cloisters of learning that held the light of human knowledge through the Dark Ages. It has been tough for a school like PDS, bucking the trends of AP courses and content-driven college admissions. It takes courage to stick with what you know is right. If you or your school want to become more student-focused, to get the teacher on the side and off the stage, to “flip” classes and use more project-based learning, if in fact you want to DO these things and not just talk about doing them, I suggest you follow Josie, or go visit PDS, or any of the many other schools where these fires burn brightly, where, in fact, they never were extinguished at all.
Chris Thinnes is another of the keepers of the flame, and over the weekend he wrote a marvelously reflective piece, at once poignant, prophetic, and cautionary. He worries that another generation will pass through our school halls as we continue to talk and discuss the merits of the Progressive model of education, as we have been doing for decades. He ponders the role of courage and the willingness to do something now, to “plant dates that we may not live to eat.” He mentioned my recent talk in Philadelphia where I merely echoed the urgency I heard the night before from Bo Adams, a strident unwillingness to let this current generation of students be doused by another monsoon of inaction. Chris asked if we are up to the task of spreading these fires beyond their current relative isolation, and I responded with quotes from the chapter on Redemption from my book, The Falconer, which holds the punch line of my personal philosophy, one shared by those who tilt at windmills even though the windmills hold all the cards.
Here is that nexus from my book, the reason we plant dates even if we may never eat them. It is part of a dialogue on the nature of those who try, knowing success may always be beyond their reach:
To truly consider yourself a warrior, you must set your personal bar very high. If the challenges are not great enough, you either must raise the bar or cease to consider yourself a true warrior.
At some point, you are going to fail in your fundamental goals, your belief system, your moral foundation, your self-view. It is an inevitable result of setting the bar higher and higher.
Redemption comes from trying, despite the sure knowledge that you will fail.
There are a lot more of us than there were a dozen years ago when I wrote the foundation of my book; we are out setting and fanning the fires of innovation in public and private schools around the country. Will we succeed? Will education for every student look dramatically different ten years from now? Will we break the shackles of the industrial age model of school that we KNOW is not the best we have to offer? I don’t know. I do know that we have found the path. We have found that those brushfires light the way back to what John Dewey, the Progressives, and the keepers of the Progressive Era flame knew all along. I cited links to many of these fire-wielders in my post last week and will add to that list whenever I can. If you feel equally compelled to link the brushfires, to build towards the coming conflagration of major education innovation, these are your tribe. They have found the key to turning talk to action. It is complicated and uncomfortable, but it is not hard. Just do it.