Big ideas aren’t about to happen in education. Big ideas are already happening. Join former high-school teacher, Adam Siler, as he investigates innovations in education, interviews the “positive educators” behind these big ideas, and explains the paradigm shifts at play into today’s schools with the help of the exciting new field of positive psychology.
Welcome to “The Positive Educator” podcast. As a former high-school teacher with a decade of classroom experience, I’ve seen enough to know that I know very little. But I am pretty sure about one thing. Even though almost everything I read and hear about education is negative, I know that school is a source of good – every single day. Amazing things happen in classrooms – every single day. Kids get inspired – every single day. Yet somehow, this is hard to acknowledge.
I recently googled “education statistics” and explored the results. The first website branded the current moment a “crisis” (studentsfirst.org, 2016) and underscored three points and three points only: (1) our children are not reading at grade level, (2) compared to other countries, we fail in math and science, and (3) despite decades of effort, our test scores are not improving significantly. The second website offered the following topic sentence: “the United States may be a superpower but in education we lag behind” (greatschools.org, 2016). The third site was a link to a piece in The Atlantic by Julia Ryanentitled, “American Schools vs. the World: Expensive, Unequal, Bad at Math.” Like I said, almost everything I read about education is negative. And though it may be true, it leaves me feeling disengaged and disillusioned.
The reality is that we live in the most healthy, most safe, most prosperous, most democratic, most equal, and most educated moment in human history. Things are far from perfect, but things have never been better for our species. This is not opinion, people. It’s statistics. Big ideas aren’t about to happen. Big ideas are already happening. And on The Positive Educator podcast, we are going to explore what is going well. We are going to approach education through the lens of its strengths not its deficits. We are going to survey the ways in which students, teachers, administrators, parents, and a host of other school stakeholders are flourishing as well as the ways in which they are helping others flourish. If this feels like a paradigm shift, that is because it is.
To be clear, The Positive Educator podcast is not meant to marginalize the ways in which the system is not working. It is not an attempt to ignore real numbers, real analysis, and real critique. It is not an attempt to white-wash or propagandize. If test scores are low in a given school that should be reported and redressed. If a teacher behaves inappropriately that should be reported and redressed. And God forbid, if violence befalls a school community that should absolutely be reported and redressed where possible. On this podcast, we are not in the business of telling professional journalists how to do their job because they do challenging and important and amazing work all the time. They tell the truth all the time. And it’s important to honor and acknowledge that.
But we at The Positive Educator podcast are here to add something. Something different. Something that stems from the fact human beings are biased toward the sordid and the salacious. Toward wars, train wrecks, and sex scandals. Let me give you an example. My guess is that you have more to say about Hillary Clinton’s email server or Donald Trump’s inflammatory remarks than you do about their policy proposals. My guess is that you feel more about Clinton’s alleged abuses of power and/or Trump’s alleged racist remarks than you do about your favorite candidates’ best policy proposal. Psychologists have a name for this phenomenon. They call it negativity bias. Research conducted by Dr. Paul Rozin at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that the negative things we experience in life are felt more intensely than the positive things in our lives. In other words, you are going to feel the fight with the friend more than you feel the makeup. If you are liberal, you are going to feel something you dislike about Donald Trump more than you feel something you like about Hillary Clinton. And for conservatives, you are going to feel something you dislike about Hillary Clinton more than you feel something you like about Donald Trump. Put simply, negativity is more powerful than positivity.
So where does this leave us? As it pertains to this podcast, this is to say that negative coverage of education is not a journalism problem. It’s not a Fox-News vs. MSNBC problem. It’s a human problem. It’s natural. It’s something that affects us all. And it is not really the sort of thing that can be conditioned out of people as it has been developing in our species for the past 200,000 years. Your negativity bias is rather easily addressed, however. You know how? By intentionally turning your attention to the positive. It will not happen naturally, so you will have to consciously ignore the “accidentally-leaked” nude pictures of Justin Bieber at the beach. You don’t have to ignore such things every time they appear on your news feed. But if wellbeing is your goal, you are going to have to deliberately turn your attention – here and there – to the positive.
And that’s where The Positive Educator podcast comes in. We hope to be a source of good in your week. We strive to present you with engaging and meaningful and relatable content that details what is going well in education today. You certainly don’t have to be a teacher to appreciate the amazing things happening in classrooms. So, let’s go back to school now, with an eye toward creating a more positive future by cultivating a more positive present.