21 years ago, I was hired as a teacher.

It was the late 90s, a mere three decades since the advent of international testing of academic achievement. That initiative, as it turns out, became the impetus for changing the structure and format of the US educational system. As one can imagine, articulating those goals brought forth a lot of opinions on how it was all to be accomplished.

Few can argue the merits of the Socratic method, but I always found it amusing that common among all of these calls for change, was the undertone that whatever flavor of change being championed at that moment was wildly unique.  Even now, many educational reformers seem to treat their ideas as if they are a jealous god; only their particular idea or cause is worthy of the title of being groundbreaking or revolutionary.

“He went on to challenge and defend educators — inferring that despite being well intended, we need to rethink the design of the whole education system (not just school). We need to put the learner first, understand their needs and adapt higher education’s role to how they learn over time.”

The above quote finds it author, Matthew Johnson, chronicling a talk given at the  ASU + GSV Summit on innovation in education in California, this past May.  The title of the piece was, “The Future of Education.”[i]

Johnson goes on about the keynote’s speech:

“However, the thing that stuck with me the most was a statement about how he believes the current design of our education system has reached its maximum potential.”

Discussing the future always requires a discussion about what is wrong with, and what needs to change about the present.  While probably well-intentioned, these are usually the easier arguments to make.  Who doesn’t want to believe that the future is going to be better than the present?  Problem finding is not a difficult exercise.

Furthermore, ideas like “putting learners first” and adapting the education system to how students learn are neither new nor revolutionary. These types of ideas have permeated classrooms, and schools of thought around education, for a long time.

“I believe that the teacher’s place and work in the school is to be interpreted from this same basis. The teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas or to form certain habits in the child, but is there as a member of the community to select the influences which shall affect the child and to assist him in properly responding to these influences.” – John Dewey

John Dewey
My Pedagogic Creed
The School Journal, Vol. LIV, No. 3
January 1897

John Dewey was talking about personalized learning over 100 years ago.  Its relevance? Many would argue that Dewey is the most consequential educational reformer referenced today[ii].  By referencing ideas like his as being new, we display a stunning lack of understanding on the ideas that have shaped education and instructional practice.  Ideas have consequences.  Not being able to understand and articulate how these consequences have impacted our schools, positively and negatively, for the past 100 years, does not put us in a good position to discuss what should be done in the future.

“History never really says goodbye.[iii]” Indeed, but we unfortunately often do.


[i] https://gokartlabs.com/the-future-of-education/

[ii] https://www.pbs.org/onlyateacher/john.html

[iii] Eduardo Galeano