Are you open to trying something new? Are you open to learning something new? Are you open to a new idea, or to overturning a closely-held belief? Before change is possible, a society must be able to say "yes" to these questions, otherwise enacting change is like pushing a rope uphill.
I attended the Games for Learning day of the Games for Change Festival at NYU last week. Brilliant people spoke on the role of games in learning, approaches to assessing efficacy, and how to build great learning games. It was hosted by Ken Perlin and Jan Plass, who are the co-directors of the Games for Learning Institute. There is a lot happening, I learned a ton, and was privileged to meet and hang out with some very cool people.
One facet that wasn't a focus at the Festival is how to ingrain games more deeply within mainstream education. This is a tough, tough challenge, one that will take some careful thought, mostly because the deck is so stacked against change in education.
I recently had lunch with a ~29 year old mother of a 5-year old boy (both were born and raised in the Seattle area). She believes strongly in the authoritarian approach to education, where the teacher is in front, the students listen quietly, write down what the teacher says, do their homework and pass their tests. This is what she wants for her son. I wonder how much of the population she represents?
I've also been talking to a friend about intellectual divides; she sent me two links that shouldn't have surprised me, but did. First, Charles Pearce's treatise on the a segment of America that disdains "smart" - one payoff quote comes from Pastor Ray Mummert of Dover, Pennsylvania, a leader in Intelligent Design community: "We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture." That says it all, doesn't it?
But there's more! The second link is to a survey in National Geographic measuring the relative belief in evolution in Western Countries. Just 14% of Americans believe that evolution is "definitely true"; over the last 20 years, uncertainty about evolution has grown from 7% to 20%; and now fully 1/3 of Americans (more than 110 million people) outright reject evolution. Less than 50% of Americans can provide even a basic explanation of DNA. This ranks America #31 out of 32.
These stories illustrate something of the current state of education in America, how science is regarded, and how deeply-held the idea of "old school" and "traditional" education might be in this country.
I have no data to back this up, but my guess is that the people more likely to believe in creationism are also likely to support "traditional" education approaches. I'm also guessing that a direct "innovation" message will NOT resonate with this audience or help affect change.
How then is something as "radical" as the use of games in learning going to achieve broad use across the American public school system?
Socio-politically, there are two ways to achieve (relatively) rapid, widespread change - brute force (e.g. 9-11/terrorism and security; or H1N1 and the obsession with hand-sanitizer), and guile (e.g. the $billions America spends fruitlessly on dieting).
How is this guile? Most diet-related advertising says something like: "try our new quick, easy and safe approach to losing tonnage without sacrificing the foods you love." The people who buy the product or service keep buying and buying and buying, always seeking that quick, easy fix. The $$ spent on trying to get thin keep increasing despite the fact that the number of obese people in the country is also increasing. People are relentlessly gullible.
Call it guile or preying on stupidity - either way, the lose-weight industry is literally and figuratively making a killing.
I believe that transforming education will require the same mercenary, exploitative approach that the weight-reduction industry has perfected. If we want to see pervasive change, we have to create a marketing groundswell that preys on the gullibility and quick, easy fix-obsessed nature of Americans. The message has to come from a united front - the Department of Education, (some) universities, and foundations, all of whom must be willing to put their money where their mouth is.
I would also focus my "magic pill" on lower grades - say Kindergarten through Grade 3, prioritizing core skills like literacy, numeracy and the sciences. Parents tend to get less involved in school as their kids get older; to make them an effective change agent, they must be at their most passionate, most susceptible to external influence, and most able to influence their school board/district.
Once you have achieved success in the lower grades, you train these same parents to expect and demand innovation as their children grow. If all goes well, you do the same thing with the next generation of K-3 parents, because by then, whatever we're changed will now be the new "old school."
To teach in a changing world, we must ourselves be ever-open to change; today it's games, tomorrow - who knows.