Machine Language Won't Tell This Story

I work in an IT department for a school district in northern Colorado. I'm a licensed educator, and I spend my time working between the technical and the instructional sides of our educational organization. I am in the fortunate role of trying to tell one group's stories to the other, and vice versa. I speak education but I also speak computer.

On the technical side, computing has changed much of the way we can educate children. And computers are powerful learning tools, built on a simple language of on and off, or 1 and 0. Binary language makes computers happen. It's simple and powerful.

But it's not how we talk to one another. Or, at least, it shouldn't be.

We people are informed by narrative. Story. We tell the stories of each other and ourselves in ways that maximize the impact of our experiences. Sometimes, in our race, to tell easy stories, stories that resonate or make loud yawps, we fall into the trap of oversimplifying the story because we want to make it easy to follow, or to follow up with action.

And that's usually when we mess the story up. Badly.

Binary is a powerful language. For machines. It's a terrible way to try to communicate with people.

And I'm pretty sure that students and teachers and parents and, yes, even politicians, are people.

So this binary oversimplification of heroes and villains in education that we are perpetuating? It's not helping.

Public or charter. Bush or Obama. Good or bad. Union or not. Democrat or Republican.

Just. Not. Helping.

There is plenty worth changing about the face of modern education in America. But to pretend that it's as simple as a binary, in most cases, is to discount the complexity of people, society and cultures. Teaching and learning are not machine processes -- they are actions and outcomes of people. Messy, complicated, and special people.

Too many education reform conversations are about the "educational product." As if children are products to be made, rather than people to be mentored.

They're not.

They are people to be inspired. Challenged. Amazed. Nurtured. Loved.

Any talk of good or bad, or dumb or smart, or old or new, oversimplifies that most difficult of processes -- what Yeats rightly called the lighting of a fire.

So, as many of us gather here to tell stories of education and reform and hope and change, there is an exciting, scary and difficult task ahead. It's an old mission, and one that's never been more important. Education changes people. Our task is difficult.

We can perpetuate the binaries, or we can work to define the middle ground, the rich and full and powerful space between two extremes that, to be honest, we mostly made up to make the stories easier to tell.

Those binary stories are not particularly good stories, or better ones. They're just the ones that are the easiest to tell.

And easy, in education, usually isn't good enough. Nor is yes or no. Good or bad.

People and their stories are bigger and better than binary.

Let's raise the bar on conversation about education, America. Soon.

Our children deserve better than binary. And so do we.