Dinosaurs, Disruption, and the Wisdom of Chris Lehman

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Dinosaurs, Disruption, and the Wisdom of Chris Lehman

With all my own travel and writing, I have fallen way behind on my blog reading; I know this because I always read posts from Chris Lehman, visionary leader of Science Leadership Academy as soon as I see them.  This time, Chris Thinnes beat me to it and Tweeted me this post as a “must read”, which it is.  I am going to disagree with Chris Lehman, but not in the way one might think.

Chris argues that the ideas proposed by Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn in their best-selling Disrupting Class represent a rush to co-opt school policy by people and interests that are remote from education.

“Why were we, the tech-savvy educators, so quick to fall in love with the idea of disruption as Christensen presented it?  Behind the idea that technology was going to change our schools–it can, it should, it is–was a market-driven version of school that opened the door to “disruption” as a positive force in education. When was the last time any teacher thought that “disruption” was a positive force in a child’s life?”

He goes on:

“What we want in our schools is not disruption, but evolution.  Our schools cannot stay static, on this we agree, but disruption and revolution are the wrong models.  We want our schools to evolve.  We need to grow, we need to take the best of what we have been and marry those ideas to the new world in which we live.”

I completely agree with the idea of evolution, in fact I have been arguing rather loudly that the key to preparing our students for their futures in an uncertain and rapidly changing world is to teach them to become self-evolving learners.  And in order to do that, schools need to become self-evolving organizations.  We have not been that in the past, which is the main reason our apple cart gets upset by external pressures, new technologies, corporate and political interests.  Our own inertia makes us inflexible and slow to adapt in the face of rising external influences.

On the other hand, (this may be semantic, but I think not) I don’t agree with how Chris identifies the real disrupters our schools face.  We all easily default to technology as the best example of Christensen’s disruption, but that is low-hanging fruit.  I, like many of you, have visited Science Leadership Academy, and as far as I am concerned, it is a real disrupter, and it is being driven by thoughtful, visionary educators, not be corporate greed, writers, or political winds. SLA, and other schools that have tossed out the old play books of the industrial model of learning, are not moved off target by fickle change fads.  Flipping classes at SLA does not mean a teacher tapes a podcast; it means that the relationship between teacher-driven and student-driven learning is set on its head.  Access to technology does not mean that students have another toy in their backpack; it means that students can now directly access and create knowledge, which has never been in the mission statement of schools in the past.

Is this evolutionary or revolutionary?  I don’t care. It is, however, the great disrupter we are looking for.  Chris argues that students don’t need disruption in their lives.  Sure they do, if their lives were formerly built around the failed model of a static education, and Chris and SLA are providing that disruption as well as any school I have ever seen.

There are two ways to re-build a building.  You can blow up the old building and start over; that is revolution.  Or you can demo the parts of the old building that no longer serve their purpose and renovate what is left.  Most of us believe we should leave the dynamite behind.  The question then becomes how much do we demolish before we get to clean, strong foundations on which to re-build.  I am arguing that we have to get down to that level of base foundations; we can’t prune at the margins.  The current building is founded on industrial age designs that create an effective assembly line.  What we want for our students is a learning ecosystem.  Those two systems are fundamentally incompatible, so we have to demolish down to that level.  I am pretty sure Chris Lehman would agree; he has done it at his own school, and in the process has created a model for the rest of us that will be viewed as evolutionary by some and disruptive as hell by others.  Believe me, there are a lot of schools and school leaders out there who either are, or should, feel threatened by what Chris and SLA are doing. They represent the mammals in the age of dinosaurs, and from the dinosaurs’ point of view, mammalian evolution was one heck of a disrupter.

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By | 2013-03-15T16:22:40+00:00 March 15th, 2013|Governance and leadership, Innovation in Education|2 Comments

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  1. boadams1 March 15, 2013 at 7:58 pm - Reply

    What frame of time does “evolution” constitute – for schools, not dinosaurs or mammals? If I want to keep my own two sons (2nd and K currently) in public schools – where they are now – will the schools evolve in time to help them? What about their classmates and all the current students that I taught and principal-ed that I see as practically my own? What about the pre-schoolers now?

    What does evolution in schools mean? How long will that take?


    • glichtman March 15, 2013 at 8:02 pm - Reply

      Too long if we don’t increase the burn rate of the brushfires. That is where we need to focus; how to create a conflagration. I think we have the horsepower, but even “we” are not working in a coordinate fashion to do it, so who is to blame? Need to come together.

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