New Wine, Old Wineskins and 21st century education
There’s an adage that keeps coming to mind as I dive more deeply into thinking about what it means to be a teacher, a learner—even a parent—in this day and age. It’s an adage that’s borrowed from my faith tradition and it goes something like this:
“You don’t put new wine into old wineskins!”
Why not? Well, because old wineskins have been stretched to their limit. Fermenting wine has made them brittle and any further use could result in the loss of both the wine and the skins.
I remember inserting this adage into the conversation about 10 years ago as our district struggled with the desire to have teachers integrate more “new” technologies into their practice. The same adage became part of our conversations a couple of weeks ago as our district program department began to talk in earnest about the idea of 21st learning.
Increasingly, I’m thinking that the conversations that we’re having about teaching and learning in this century must be multi-dimensional. On the one hand, we need to continue to pay attention to the new wine that is currently being produced. To be sure, it’s a rich blend that is energized by some rather agressive new grapes, but which is held together and supported by the fruit of some older and somewhat more stable vines. The vintage promises to be our finest yet!
At the same time, we have to be equally attentive to the “skins” into which we are attempting to place this new wine. It’s within the structures and infrastructures of our educational institutions that this new vintage is being poured, and it’s within the walls of these institutions that fermentation is expected to happen.
I believe that the metaphor draws us into the conversation in a different way in that it allows us to get excited about the new wine, but it forces us to ask important questions the nature of the places that counting on to hold and nurture our new vintages! And, in having these conversations on a more practical level, we have to be willing to look at the everything connected with the modern and not-s0-modern schoolhouse.
We need to have both the insight and the courage to stand up and say, “This practice right here just won’t do anymore!” or “A change here might allow us to do this” or “We need to completely get rid of this, else we’ll never get to that!”
The focused design work that we need to do extends well beyond the sweeping rhetoric about 21st century education that is beginning to turn many away from the conversations. There may be things about our current school structures that are worth hanging preserving, but there are many things that need to be re-examined and re-imagined if it is going to hold the new offerings.
When you think of the metaphor, what are some of things that come to mind in terms of our current model of school? What is worth keeping? What practices and traditions are standing in the way of us taking full advantage of what new ways of looking at teaching and learning have to offer?
This is a meaty metaphor wrapped up in some pretty general questions, but this is the path that I find myself moving down these days. In the next few weeks, I hope to unpack this a little more, and I would appreciate your insights, ideas…and your company!