We were over a year into planning and saving for this trip when Elizabeth turned to me on the couch. “Why don’t we try to visit schools as we go?” she asked. The idea struck as a bolt of epiphany. It really made a lot of sense. Professionally, this would make the trip less of a hiatus and more of a self-funded sabbatical. It would give me a chance to indulge in something like the journalism career I passed over to pursue education. And most interestingly, it would give us an excuse to talk with locals about something they cared about. In the midst of this excitement, the questions began to pile on top of themselves: What questions would we ask? How would we get connected to schools? What would we do about language barriers? What tone should we take when we write? Which schools would we focus on? What could we hope to better understand by the end?
As we’ve sought to answer these questions, we’ve learned a lot about the differences between American education and the rest of the world Many of the foundations of our education system, from the time commitment we expect of our teachers (much more), to the training we offer them (much less), are dealt with significantly differently in other countries. Other factors, like our staggeringly high childhood poverty rate and complicated (to say the least) history with race and systemic oppression, further add to the uniqueness of the American education landscape. But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’ll go into more detail about what we’ve learned in our preliminary research in a later post. For now, I want to focus on what we aim to achieve with this aspect of our trip.
Dos and Don’ts
What we certainly don’t want to do is suggest that we have a clear grasp of what education is like in a certain country just because we’ve spoken to some people and visited a few schools. We also don’t want to give the impression that we’re searching for best practices to be sent back for implementation in the United States. We’re not looking to pass judgement or discover solutions. (Over the years, I’ve become increasingly frustrated by the ‘reformer as Dr. Frankenstein’ approach to leadership) Instead, we want to focus on the ideas and experiences of individuals. Curiosity will be our driving force. We’ll ask students, teachers, and administrators what they think the goals of education should be and how they seek to meet those goals. We’ll ask about the obstacles they face as well as the programs and ideas they are most excited about. As the months pass by, we look forward to seeing how the voices of the people we talk with reinforce and contradict one another. We hope that these conversations will stir us to ask more interesting questions and spur us to think more creatively about what education can look like in the United States.
We don’t know what we’ll find, but we hope to add something useful to the dialogue around education here at home. At the very least, we look forward to broadening our own understandings of what is possible.
We hope you’ll stick around for the ride. And of course, your voice has a place in this conversation as well so feel free to comment and share.
Will & Elizabeth