School is a train. I don’t mean one of those long slow freight trains bogged down by a hundred tons of steal and cargo. No, school is a bullet train charging down the track, leaving the day 1 station on the lightning run to 180. Once the school train sets off, altering the course of that speeding machine is a superhuman task. The train keeps going, only stopping for the occasional holiday or mid term break when you might have time to hop out, bang the track with a big hammer to make a minor course adjustment before you have to hop back on and speed away again.
Did I mention the school train moves fast? Day 30 flies by, then day 45, 90, 120 and soon the train is slowing into day 180 and the ride is up. You are left with what you were able to accomplish during the ride using what you had with you on day 1, supplemented with the few things you brought back on board during the occasional stops along the way. But for the most part, what you brought with you is what you used.
The time to truly affect the course and eventual outcome of the train is in the summer, after the short four week hop to summer school has been made and the train is safely back in the maintenance yard. It’s a short window, but proper planning and track laying can make or break that next 200mph trip. Unfortunately, this is the time the people that make these decisions take their vacations. So the track goes unchanged. The train may get a new paint job and some fancy new gadgets, but it’s still making the same trip as the year before.
On that trip, the train doesn’t slow down because the computer lab fails, it doesn’t alter course because Apple releases a magical tablet device, it doesn’t make an unscheduled stop because the Internet goes down. It keeps going, no matter what. It sticks to the schedule. It keeps going until it gets to day 180.
The train is a challenging place to work. You work with the people that got on the train day 1 and you probably don’t see many new faces all the way through until day 180. For the most part, you stay in your section of the train. Occasionally you meet with other passengers to hear about how well last year’s train ride went or to discuss a group of passengers that might be getting off the train early. It’s basically the exact same conversations you had last year. It may even be about the same passengers. Not much changes on the train from year to year. Same train, same scenery when you look out the windows, same destination.
I think its hard to look at the train or the destination when you’re on the train speeding down the track at 200mph. Maybe what we really need in education is more time to think about where we are going and how we get there.
What is it that we want to change in education? Is it the destination? The tracks that get us there? The train? Or maybe even the passengers? Can we reach a new destination if all we change is the track and we leave the same trains running on them? Are trains even the best way to get there?
photo source http://www.flickr.com/photos/telstar/216062271/