Lichtman, Grant. #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass, 2014.
Sitting as a freshman in an upper level History of the Old South course at George Mason University in the early 1990’s, I had no idea that twenty years later I would be using a skill learned during that class for my professional work today as a principal for two divisions in an independent school. I loved my undergraduate days as a History major. I thought I would graduate and then get my Phd in History. A life in academia was in my future. Little did I realize the days of ample job prospects in Academe were numbered. The 2500 some-odd candidates that applied to LSU for Phd’s in History that year had about as much chance as landing a academic job as the 20 who actually earned acceptance. Yet, I was prepared for my future by some visionary professors, ironically in the History department, who understood the main theme of Lichtman’s travelogue: schools and educators today cannot possibly know the content students will need in their working lives, but the best educational leaders today develop skills, or more accurately learning processes, that will inevitably be needed.
As I began to read Grant Lichtman’s rich travelogue on education, #EdJourney, I unexplainably felt the need write the one page book review taught by the late Dr. Robert Hawkes in the History of the Old South. He taught with equal parts nurturer and taskmaster and was widely beloved by his students. However, the best thing an older history professor with a slow Southern drawl and a tremendously conservative, traditional background taught was that change is inevitable and the students in his classes should be preparing now for the unseeable changes that lie ahead.
The one page book review was one of the ways Dr. Hawkes prepared us. Most in the Historical Establishment at the time thought brevity was for cowards or the laggards. Yet, Dr. Hawkes realized brevity would have value. I can remember the day he returned our first efforts. Many had not taken to heart his clear directions to limit the assignment to one page double spaced. They were rife with red ink and temporary failure in the same way Twitter smites those who extend beyond 140 characters. Hawkes was my precursor to Twitter. I also thought it was a brave step for Dr. Hawkes to prepare his students for a world where he/she with the cogent and concise point beat the belabored one.
Lichtman’s book pays homage to those across America brave enough to educate for the unseen and who are not beholden to the way things have been. The book is so powerful because he understands even more clearly what Peter Schwartz, writer of Inevitable Surprises told us a decade ago. The world is changing so fast; we cannot possibly know what the future holds. The best we can do is prepare with skills that are transcendent. Lichtman interviewed more than six hundred folks on his journey across the country in his Prius. Each time he asked folks how innovating schools are and should be teaching kids today what they will need tomorrow. Again, with brevity and a “Twitter mindset” being our guide, here are the key takeaways he found from my vantage point:
- We are at a precipice of education. Some teachers, students, administrators and schools have jumped across a chasm of uncertainty and created new learning worlds for themselves that have completely broken from the industrial model (Lichtman refers to the assembly line model in chapter 12) that still pervades today with its schedule-driven, supervision-manic emphasis. Those that have made the jump have found freedom in redesign. They have found freedom in “failing fast and falling up” (154). Those schools who have not had the courage or the mandate to jump have wasted time trying to build bridges from the past to the future that don’t translate well. These schools are less messy and most of the teachers and students at schools like that are more comfortable, but they are not adaptable and what most students will need is a high adaptability quotient. Lichtman witnessed first hand what schools that are adaptable look and shared this in his 7th chapter.
- While the assembly line educational format of the past should not still control any longer in education, we should still look to an older model, that of the farmer, for our best practice in education. Farming is hard work, like teaching. Farmers ask great questions that when answered will make them successful with their future crops. Lichtman writes: “Asking the right questions at the right time is critical to creating an effective process… it does no good to add more fertilizer if the problem is a plague of locusts” (198). So to in our schools, it does no good to pile on more content if the students do not know how to make meaning of it for their future.
- The center of schools of the future should be the students, not the adults. Bo Adams of Mount Vernon Presbyterian is quoted often by Lichtman. He says it is important to “narrow the authority gap in the classroom” (152) Likewise, the central process of schools should not be content delivery. Rather it should problem creation/ideation through to a produced solution. Since the fall of man in the garden, we have been tasked by our Creator to troubleshoot, solve and produce. When Eve and Adam bit into the fruit of knowledge that they desired, the result was that they and their progeny would be destined to generations of untenable knowledge, unknowable content. Man’s duty then did not become to know. It became to solve. This continue true, though our nature tends to want to get us back to the original garden where no work need take place or where we feel we can narrowly define the content to manage it. No more free fruit in the garden? God tasked us with producing. What is the best way for us to produce to avoid starvation, like Lichtman’s farmer analogy that he traces throughout the book? We have to discover the problem, empathize with others on the path, experiment for the next new right process and then produce it. In many ways, this is much more messy than acquiring knowledge, but a lot more fulfilling.