“The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton
Here’s the challenge:
In 5-minutes or less, describe the US education system.
Oh, OK. Go ahead and take 10…20….50 minutes……
Now, find someone - anyone - in the United States who agrees with/ validates/ substantiates everything you’ve said.
My hypothesis - based on recent discussion about the US education system with educators from around the United States and from 5 other countries - is that both of these tasks would be incredibly challenging, potentially frustrating, and, ultimately, illuminating.
Learning about the Colombian education system along side educators from New York, Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Tennessee, Virginia, and Minnesota provided a new framework in how to think about the system in my own country.
A seemingly simple question would be posed to us teachers and result in 9 diverse responses.
“What does assessment look like in your schools?”
“What standards do you need to teach?”
“How many students are in your classrooms?”
“How are public schools funded?”
And we nine teachers — being proponents and champions and rebels and change-makers — were often passionate about telling our story about our schools and classrooms and local systems and politics and policy. This is the way American education can look. These are ways in which our system is working and these are ways in which our system is broken. This is the potential, because, we so ardently believe that there is such potential in our system for students.
Otherwise, why would we be teaching?
The United States is a place of diversity. Many subscribe, or at least acknowledge, the myth of the American Dream. Work hard, and you can succeed. You’re in control of your own destiny.
Individualism is valued. Competition is rewarded. Local control and decentralization is paramount. We Americans do not like to be told what to do!*
I believe its impossible to identify a quintessential American quality, observation, or pronouncement that describes the American way of life for all of us. I’ve found that the same is true for our education system. We don’t have one system; we have a multitude - states, counties, cities, districts, public, private, public charter, private charter, homeschool, un-school, online, duel enrollment, hybrid….
I’ve learned so much about education across the United States from my experiences in Colombia. Through conversation, inquiry, putting aside assumptions, and listening with the purpose of understanding, I’m developing a broader, richer picture of who we are as American teachers.
Collaboration among teachers often happens at the school level and in other local capacities. National collaboration is a vital piece to understanding a broader landscape and how and where we fit into the narrative. International collaboration among teachers — well, it’s the gold standard for fostering mutual respect, understanding, and, not a small thing, for better understanding who we are.
*Generalizations do not apply to all individuals.
This blog is not an official U.S. Department of State blog. The views and information presented are the grantee's own and do not represent the Teachers for Global Classrooms Program, IREX, or the U.S. Department of State.
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