A case for irreverence…

Really good comedians and social commentators know how to make people squirm (hello Borat!). They cut right to the heart of the matter with a well chosen and caustic barb. Ricky Gervais probably won’t be invited back to the Golden Globes any time soon but damn, wasn’t he amazing? The MTV Music Video Awards show is also famous for its legendary cringe-worthy moments as hosts push the truth to uncomfortable limits. Uncomfortable, biting, sarcastic, caustic, acid-tongued, and irreverent but also iconoclastic, envelope pushing, genre bending and culture changing.

The 21C Learning Movement in its most undiluted form can hold its own with the Chris Rocks, Sacha Baren Cohens and Ricky Gervais of the entertainment world. It is a take no prisoners movement that challenges established norms and conventions. It does not accept “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” It questions, pokes, prods and sometimes attacks traditional academic culture. I love to quote two of my favourite 21C iconoclasts when I want to stir up an audience. Quoting Ian Jukes when he describes a system producing, “highly educated, useless people” or Sugata Mitra stating that you don’t really need to know anything anymore, always leads to a few red faces and gaping jaws.

We need more of this irreverence in the education system. We have to stomach the possibility of losing a couple friends along the way to real change. The tyranny of niceness, bureaucracy and acquiescence is being stripped away in many areas of our society much to the betterment of said society. The potential of looking foolish on Colbert or The Daily Show plays heavy in the minds of many a politician. We need to bring a similar attitudinal sledgehammer to the ranks of academia. For every time that we chose to move slowly in implementation, we lose ground. (Remember moving quicker is not the same thing as being reckless!) Challenging for challenging’s sake is nonsense but there are some fights worth fighting. There are times when we need to cry foul and rock the boat. I have gotten myself in trouble for doing just that but I feel that it is worth it under the right circumstances. The world is changing fast and education is reacting slowly. We need to start asking, “why”.

I know that this is going to sound silly but I think that the biggest reason that we are moving so slowly is because we are focusing too much on education. Huh? you say! Let me break it down. We need to be “responsive and precise” with our teaching methods without doubt. Placing too heavy an emphasis on PD that is education only makes us blunt instruments rather than precise ones.  We get caught in the echo chamber of education thinking. Learning Goals, Success Criteria and Descriptive Feedback plus a whole host of other education tools have value. They are useless though if we do not stay current with trends from the rest of the world. A teacher has responsibility first and foremost to his or her students, system leaders though have to think bigger. As system leaders, we have to push the education stuff to the side just a bit from time to time and start learning more about how to scale, connect and grow ideas. I have learned more about being an educational leader from reading Clay Shirky, Clive Thompson, Alexis Ohanian, Howard Schultz, and Scott Belsky than I have from reading Fullan, Leithwood or Hattie.

There is a difference between being a smartass and being irreverent. A smartass pours gas on a fire just to watch it burn while the irreverent is dickish with a purpose. In the majority of cases that purpose is to accelerate change. I really feel like we need to embrace and amplify the irreverence of 21C. Change is a difficult process, we can either pull the bandaid off slowly under the guise of protection from harm or we can pull it off fast.

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