Friday, June 3, 2011

What did you do over summer vacation?

I thought about education, of course.

Dave & Kathy at Mary's Bistro
Mackinac Island is a summer vacation destination located between Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas. The island is home to numerous resorts, a state park, and various historic landmarks. You might recognize its Grand Hotel as the backdrop for the 1980s movie, Somewhere in Time. A unique feature of the island is that motorized vehicles are prohibited. It was in this setting that Kathy and I spent a beautiful day two summers ago taking in the sights as we rode our bikes around the island.

Photo courtesy Todd Van Hoosear
Because no cars or trucks are allowed on the island, horse-drawn vehicles are found everywhere. There are horse taxis, delivery carts, and even street cleaners. During our biking, we happened upon a garbage "truck" being pulled by a team of horses. As we passed, we noticed that the driver was fast asleep. It didn't matter. The horses knew where to go - probably after years of following the same path. I was impressed.

I have been thinking about that experience recently (and not just because summer is once again upon us). Current education reform efforts have me wondering if what policy makers have in mind is a system that trains kids to be like those horses we encountered on Mackinac Island. Seth Godin might call it training cogs. Cogs that can follow a predetermined path while those in charge feel safe enough to take a nap. Probably the most frustrating part is that this is not real reform, just reorganizing a system that already rewards conformity and penalizes creativity. In fact, much like transportation on Mackinac Island, educational reformers seem satisfied using "vehicles" (high-stakes tests, teacher-proof curricula, back-to-basics resources ...) from the past. (Read Linda Darling-Hammond's commencement address at Teachers College for more examples)

In researching this post, I found the following. 
Where Mackinac Island Horses Spend the Winter - Pickford, Michigan
Photo courtesy Kate Ter Harr
This photograph represents some of the ideas I have for education reform: (1) freedom to explore; (2) opportunity to collaborate; and (3) open space that allows for choice. The metaphor is not exact but it doesn't have to be. It's got me thinking. And I cannot imagine a better way to spend my "summer vacation."

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