Our Unpleasant Truths: Where Have They Delivered Us? — Part I | Will Richardson | 3 Min Read

January 19, 2021

Regardless of your political persuasion, the color of your skin, your age, or where you happen to be living, life is appreciably different at the start of 2021 from just a year ago. One of my new favorite writers, Scott Galloway (and others), is arguing that while the calendar ticked off one year in 2020, changes that were just starting to make inroads into our lives accelerated the equivalent of five or maybe even 10 years last year. 

And none of it feels like it’s slowing down, does it?

The challenges we face today are existential. We’re grappling with deep, systemic, long-term issues around race. The climate crisis is no longer on the horizon; it’s inside the walls. Here in the U.S., our very understanding of democracy is being put to the test. And the pandemic has exposed inequities and ineptitude that tear at the very fabric of our society.

These are not minor problems requiring a few expert roundtables and some policy tweaks to repair. Taken together, they create a moment of reckoning instead. They tell us in plain terms that the time has come to get our collective houses in order…and fast.

Schools of all stripes will not escape their own reckoning at this moment. Under siege are time worn narratives and mental models of what an education is, how we acquire it, and what value it holds longer term. Like so many other institutions, we find ourselves in the angsty in-between as our old stories fade and we begin, perhaps because of the events of last year, to write new stories for a much more uncertain future. 

And at the heart is the difficult and daunting question: To what extent have the practices and systems we’ve been living in schools contributed to the fraught moment we all now find ourselves in?

A truthful interrogation of that question leads to some uncomfortable answers. It’s hard to explain away the inequity, the inertia, and the growing irrelevance of the school experience today. These and other “unpleasant truths” as I’ve been calling them have been festering just below the surface for decades. 

But 2020 uncovered them all. And our moment of reckoning has arrived. 

Yet, as much as we may be keen to “innovate” our way out of this, that is not the best path forward. We can’t fix our own crises or our more global…

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Will Richardson

A former public school educator of 22 years, Will Richardson has spent the past 15 years developing an international reputation as a leading thinker and writer about the intersection of social online learning networks, education, and systemic change. Most recently, Will is a co-founder of The Big Questions Institute which was created to help educators use “fearless inquiry” to make sense of this complex moment and an uncertain future. In 2017, Will was named one of 100 global “Changemakers in Education” by the Finnish site HundrED, and was named one of the Top 5 “Edupreneurs to Follow” by Forbes. He has given keynote speeches, lead breakout sessions, and provided coaching services in over 30 countries on 6 continents. He has also authored six books, and given TEDx Talks in New York, Melbourne, and Vancouver.