What Would Aliens Report About Schooling Right Now?

Right now – in the fall of 2020, school fire alarms, wordwide, continue to ring and no one seems to know how to shut them off. The bells are ringing because of a pandemic that continues to disrupt education like nothing any of us have experienced in generations. Online learning, home-schooling, cohort-bubbling, outdoor classrooms – these are just a few of the ways students, families, teachers and administrators are triaging this experience.  

Some say it’s dreadful, others relate that their children are happier at home, some teachers say they’re coping okay with online, some others just use the internet as a portal for cramming curriculum and worksheets, and everyone’s miserable. 

Do you hear a bell ringing?

Considering all this and more, I can’t help but wonder: What might aliens think right now about schooling, if they just dropped in and had a good luck around?  

I think they would be utterly perplexed and deliver an extremely varied report card to their green-headed bosses. Here’s my speculation: 

– If they observed the level of caring that, universally, seems to define efforts to support K-12 schooling and the health of students right now, I think they’d rate it A – A+

– if they closely inspected curricular materials, worksheets and tests in active use and considered how these actually matched up with kids’ personal learning proclivities, strengths and dispositions, I think they’d rate it D – F

– if they considered how online schooling activities matched up with how the internet and computerization can more fully support learning, I think they’d rate it C – F

– if they considered issues of equity and how likely equal opportunities for learning were  available across differing demographic groups, country by country, I think they’d rate it B- – F.  

If anything, the pandemic has underscored some tremendous disparities, falsehoods and gaping challenges in education systems, worldwide. The disruptive moment has arrived, and the fire alarm continues its piercing ring. 

Maybe no one should shut it off and we should let schooling wind down. Maybe then we could meet and really converse about re-conceptualizing a new model of education, based on what we know about learning and how learning might be optimally supported. 

Do we really need an alien intervention to get there? 

Hi kids, welcome to grade 4.
I’m your new teacher … I’ll be sending you worksheets every few hours for the remainder of the term. Stay safe!

RIP – Maurice Gibbons, professor emeritus, Simon Fraser University, Faculty of Education. In late August, one of my mentors, Maurice Gibbons, passed away at the age of 92. Maurice had a deft touch in education, writing insightful manuals on Self-Directed Learning, empowering one’s innate genius and always encouraging creativity as a vital path to self-knowledge. He led by graceful example, and I remain grateful for our visits and conversations.

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