Setting: A large auditorium. It is the official back-to-school meeting of the returning staff which is being held to kick off the start of a brand new school year.
A long white-haired, bearded man walks onstage with a big smile. He has a kind face, Jerry Garcia comes to mind. He is holding a black marker pen in his left hand and goes to stand before a tripod displaying a large pad of paper. Behind him is large screen and his laptop is open and running at the podium to the left of the stage. The words "Stolen Dreams" are displayed prominently on the screen behind him.
"Hello, everybody and welcome back to school. Today we are going to be discussing the big problem that American schools are facing in this modern age. Just to start this discussion off I'm going to ask you to respond to the question, 'What is the main problem facing American schools today?' I'm going to give you three minutes to discuss things at your table and to reach a consensus. Are you ready? Ok, your time begins now."
A stopwatch appears on the screen behind the man. He paces around the stage nervously waiting for the time to expire. Finally, the alarm goes off, the clock disappears, and the words Stolen Dreams appear on the screen once again. The man repositions himself before the writing pad and holds up the marker pen.
"Just playing with you. I have no intention of writing down shit. It's a waste of time. If you remember, I asked you to identify the ONE problem that America's schools are facing, so theoretically, there should only be one answer. If there is only one answer there would be no good reason to make a list."
The man gives them time to think, then continues.
"You know as well as I do that you guys came up with a lot of different ideas as to what the problem was. This leads to the other problem which is that you are all wrong."
The room suddenly comes alive; it buzzes with the sounds of people talking.
"Yeah. I said it. You are all wrong. Prove me wrong; who amongst you said that you didn't have clue? Raise your hand."
The man surveys the room. No one raises their hand.
"Yes, I just walked in here and called you all a bunch of dumbasses who can't even identify the main problem that you are supposed to be dealing with in order to call yourself a good teacher."
Man waits. The noise level rises to a loud buzz. There is a lot of anger, suspicion, curiosity, and distrust in the room. The administrators, sitting together, lean in and chat nervously amongst themselves.
"Naw. That's not really what I did. I didn't call you a bunch of dumbasses. I did imply though that I think that you have been misinformed about the issue, and I'll say that I don't think that you can be blamed for not knowing the answer, seeing that we, as a group, have been lied to for an awful long time."
The buzzing subsides a little. Removing both the pejorative and the blame has calmed the assemblage somewhat. Many of the scowls have been replaced with looks of curiosity.
"I'm going to ask you an another question. When did the problem begin? Now, I know you're suspicious and are probably thinking that I'm just trying to make you look stupid. I assure you that is not the case. I just want to make a point as to why it is so hard for people to identify the problem. Let's say I give you two more minutes. This time I will take your answers."
The two minutes expire.
"Okay, let's hear what you have to say."
Reluctant at first, people gradually warm to the question and begin to shout out answers, most are dates from the twentieth century, a few from the twenty-first century, and one from the nineteenth century.
"I'm sorry to say this, but, once again, you are wrong. Bear with me. I want you to suppose or even pretend for a moment, that I'm right. I want you to consider the all of implications upon the American educational system if our educators cannot identify the biggest problem facing modern education."
The facial expressions in the room change. It is easy to see that many of the people are doing exactly what he asks.
"I'll start by saying that I believe that the problem that we face began when humans first appeared on the planet earth. We can't even agree on when that was. The differences of opinion on this issue range from 100,000 years to 6,000,000 years ago, but we aren't going to focus on this, nor are we going to argue about how it happened. All I want, is to establish the idea that our problems with learning began with our first ancestors.
You must remember, their environment was an incredibly violent and dangerous one, they lacked the ability to talk at first or to even put things into coherent thought patterns, but we must also consider that the fact that we are all here today gathered together is a tremendous testament to their ability to learn. The problem as I see it, is the same one we face today, what is it that are we supposed learn and how are we supposed to go about learning it?
There have always been two major currents of consciousness, one deals with how to explain our presence on this planet and thereby reach an understanding on what the world around us actually means, and the other with the need to develop the knowledge and skill sets needed to survive in a violent, hostile world. How do we know the world is still violent and hostile?
That's easy; we always die at the end."
The room goes quiet, then slowly it begins to buzz again.
"Let me ask another question. How many of you ever plan your daily lessons around the simple fact that we are all going to die one day?"
A few hands go up around the room. The man addresses the upraised hands.
"Reading teachers right? I was too, and I know that the whole cycle of life of thing comes around every once in a while. I don't mean that though. I mean actually taking into consideration the truth that all human endeavor ends in death when you are making decisions about what it is that humans need to learn.
It is one of the fundamental realities of our existence, isn't it? You would think that it would have to figure in the decisions that we make about our curriculum and our pedagogy. But truth be told, it doesn't really. In fact, it's kind of the opposite. All those lame excuses for graduation speeches that we are forced to listen to every year attest to this fact.
The man waits for them to digest the fact that he just called all graduation speeches lame.
February 19, 1619 is the day you should have identified when the problem began in earnest. That is the day that Galileo first bumped heads with Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, the Papal legate, over the issue of heliocentric theory. Galileo came to Rome to argue a scientific point and the Cardinal was there to tell Galileo to stick his data up his ass because God(the Pope) said no.
Our cavemen ancestors undoubtedly watched the most amazing displays of celestial wonders in the history of mankind, the Hubble telescope notwithstanding. I can say this with some certainty because, unlike our modern astronomers, they had no filters to run it through. They had no language to explain to themselves what they were seeing and only knew that it was something huge and something beyond their ability to understand, something miraculous in other words, and that it was also something that they intuitively knew they needed to understand.
Yet, they also intuitively understood that they couldn't dwell on it all of the time because the task of daily survival was so insistent and brutal that it demanded nearly all of their attention. Nevertheless, they always considered those unexplained wonders to be part and parcel of the same consciousness that they used daily to figure out how to turn a rock into a tool. This was true right up through the age of mythology where the stories they invented to explain the world and skies around them always told of the Gods meddling in the affairs of men.
And this remained true right up till the aforementioned day. There were some rumblings around the seventh century when the Greeks started to question the arrangement and began to champion the human ability to reason things out. But it wasn't until that God, via his PR guy the Pope, told the newly formed scientist union to kiss his ass that things began to change in earnest.
Prior to that fateful day in 1619, man still considered our consciousness to be one flow. What really happened on that day was that two competing channels of consciousness were born with the left brain focus eventually emerging victorious over not just the more spiritual right brain focus, but also over any chance of their collaboration.
I know that you are all sitting there thinking I might be more than a little bit crazy, or, at best, you are wondering how does any of what I am saying belong in the discussion of the real problem with our educational system, and especially, how does it explain what you should be doing in your classroom.
Don't worry, I will make it fit.