Evolution is messy, dangerous, and rough (the opposite of smooth). Some of those who clamber to join the bandwagon of “learning is an ecosystem” look at the world through rose-tinted glasses, where ecosystems are healthy, the grass is lush, all of the denizens eat well, get fat, and die peacefully. Too bad that is not the way the world works.
Evolution is the process by which some species mutate and survive, and others do not. And on the pathway to a new species, many individuals don’t make it. Evolution succeeds due to the laws of large numbers and long times: over a long time, and with many individuals trying to succeed, some are going to make it while many do not.
What does this have to do with education? In the last 6 months I have seen three examples of really type-flight, leading-edge, deeper learning schools/districts get stalled or killed off in their attempt to fully transform. In all three cases, visionary leaders at the site or district level did everything right: they are role models for the type of leadership without which education is doomed to another few decades of traditional rear-view mirror mediocrity. They started the process of true evolution…and then something happened. In once case a weak district administrator with more interest in self than in the future of the kids found a political back door to kill off the project and (metaphorically) the principal. In a second case, a board got a case of the willies when a small, vocal minority of parents expressed their fear of the future. And in a third case, still to be played out, a Tea Party-inspired board is jeopardizing what teachers and administrators at both the site and district office have struggled so hard to build.
This stinks for these people, schools, and districts. The good news is that there are finally a very large number of other schools and districts where evolution is taking hold. The law of large numbers may be starting to win. Individuals will die off, but evolution has never yet failed to favor a species more fit for the prevailing environmental conditions.