An infrastructure lies below and supports everything above. It typically includes physical structures that make human communities work.
Infrastructure is usually thought of as something tangible like a bridge. Bridges are especially important. Upgrading them means rethinking their purposes.
But infrastructure can also be a service like education. Something that supports our daily lives in ways that make everything else possible.
Like bridges, schools are essential for making society work. Upgrading them also means rethinking their purposes.
PLANNING FOR SOMETHING OTHER THAN THE STATUS QUO
Bridges allow us to move conveniently from shore to shore. Schools help us move from the ignorance of youth toward a productive and fulfilling adulthood.
Bridges are an important part of a physical infrastructure. Schools are essential to the service infrastructure.
Rethinking infrastructure is necessary and ongoing. Quaint covered bridges and one room schoolhouses of the 19th Century no longer exist as a central part of 21st Century life.
They are constantly being reconceptualized to meet the needs of a growing and diverse population. Planners invent new ways to be ready for a different future, based on evidence and imagination.
Bridges still move people from shore to shore. But they are now magnificent structures designed to accommodate large and fast-moving vehicles.
Schools have done the same thing. With larger buildings and more educators working in them. To enlarge curricular content and make instruction more efficient.
The quaint status quo has been replaced with an updated utility. A different kind of usefulness.
Human beings struggle with this phenomenon because we love what was. It is comfortable.
The aura surrounding that little covered bridge down the road. The closeness of teachers and young friends in the warm safe little school on the hill. Growing and becoming together. Imbuing our memories with a meaning so precious they cannot be adequately described.
A RECONCEIVED UTILITY
We humans are conflicted. The comfortableness of what was fights the convenience of what is. We cannot have both. One dominates the other, with convenience and efficiency coming out on top.
But maybe there is a way to change that scenario. Maybe there is a way to have both comfortableness and convenience.
Perhaps a reconceptualization of the practice of utility is the new challenge. The new opportunity.
The good part about being human is that we have imagination. Some of us are like George Bernard Shaw when he said, “You see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say, ‘Why not?’”
People of the 21st Century are beginning to question the utility of convenience and efficiency. Mass and internet-based social networks are more distractions than fulfilling experiences. Feelings of purposelessness are rampant. Depression and suicides are blights on communities.
Loneliness is an epidemic.
Can bridges and schools be reconceived to address these problems? The question might seem silly.
But maybe not.
What if a bridge can also be a building or even a village? Like the Ponte Vecchio Bridge over the Arno River in Florence, Italy:
Where people live in apartments and meet in coffee shops. Work together in small studios. Sit on verandas and enjoy the setting sun over the river.
Read, study, reflect, create, build, and become more than hordes of strangers going from one shore to the next. Pausing to become an inherent part of the environment and humankind.
As for schools, what would happen if we disrupted the factory-like academic assembly line and superficial means of determining learning quality?
Past experiments with those goals in mind have been attempted and eventually disappeared. The reasons those experiments failed is because they were merely an overlay on an existing system.
Cosmetic changes in schedules, teaching techniques, assessment of learning, and other behaviors that never specified updated outcomes in terms of student growth.
Those actions were like upgrading a bridge by building a modern village above an existing substructure. A substructure that eventually buckles under the increased weight and activity above.
In schools, that inadequate substructure consists of an old and poorly designed academic program. Teachers are not prepared to work collaboratively to modify curriculum. They have not been trained to connect a new curriculum to a better instructional design.
CURRICULUM CONTENT AND INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN ARE A SCHOOL’S INFRASTRUCTURE
What and how schools teach undergirds everything else. And that infrastructure must be substantial and enduring.
Patchwork “fixes” such as high stakes tests, officially developed accountability standards, and the occasional tweaking of the system do not work.
Like a bridge with rusted trusses and rivets cannot be repaired by a guy on a scaffold replacing rivets and welding on plates.
The bridge, whether repaired or replaced, must be substantive. And if a bridge is to do more than transport people from shore to shore it must be VERY substantive.
Strongly reinforced in every detail.
Not only to keep everything stable on top, but to ensure the entire superstructure lasts a long time. Quality throughout and perpetually significant in terms of human and cultural utility.
Bridges are for crossing. Schools are for learning.
No one disputes those brief descriptors as far as they go. But as with bridges, quality schools and learning must also be perpetually significant in terms of human and cultural utility.
Students must acquire understanding, knowledge, skills, behaviors, values, attitudes, and preferences.
Now and over time.
Perpetuated by curiosity and a cognitive substructure that induces engagement throughout a lifespan.
To make those things happen, schools must rethink and rewrite curriculum. Actions that have been tried many times.
But the flaw in those previous efforts was in WHO was doing the rethinking and rewriting.
Curriculum specialists, no doubt.
Bridge architects that create artistic renderings and specifications, who then turn them over to workers untrained or unmotivated to implement such sophisticated plans.
In education the disconnect between curriculum experts and classroom teachers is only part of the problem. Too often the curriculum experts are authors of textbooks and other instructional materials touted as cutting edge.
Commercially produced materials advertised as being solutions, when in fact they are only as good as local teachers think they are.
Which is not always positive.
Or the curriculum experts are district level administrators greatly influenced by external mandates for achieving accountability via high stakes tests. Accreditation and the need for ongoing funding loom over the decision-making and action-taking process like a heavy cloud.
Upcoming posts will discuss those issues in greater detail. In terms of solutions, developmental models, and strategies for program improvement.
Designers and competent implementors sit in the same room during the planning stages. They merge the hypothetical with the practical. Using the popular “yes, and” approach for turning dreams into reality.
Teachers and administrators who are BOTH curriculum designers and talented learning conductors in the classroom. Working together to maximize the FULL definition of learning for American students.
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