I Went to the Crossroads

I just returned from a road tour of the famous Blues Highway, which stretches from Memphis to New Orleans, with a mandatory stop in Clarksdale, Mississippi.  The history was remarkable, the sites stunning, and the eery sense of difficult days past still hang in the air, and in the music left behind.  Perhaps my favorite of the wandering delta bluesmen is Robert Johnson, who, according to legend, sold his soul to Ol’ Scratch in exchange for instant and unrivaled guitar skill.   I visited the legendary Crossroads where the deal allegedly occurred, photographed the area in detail, and took a few moments to absorb the aura of the unkept, sunken graveyards and two dusty roads that snaked through fields, swamps, and trees, into an unvisible horizon.  It’s easy to see how legends can take root in such places.

As our trip continued and we merged back onto Interstate 8 near the famous Dockery Plantation, I could not help but consider the power of the Crossroads metaphor and how deeply it is ingrained into our culture.  It endures as a metaphor that has trascendsed generations and represents critical moments where decisions shape an unforseen and powerful future reality.

Safely in my hotel room and settled for the evening in New Orleans, I read several consecutive articles that placed me back at the Crossroads, and I couldn’t help but wonder if all of you, my peers, are standing there with me.

The first story outlined Google’s chief engineer stating that we are years, not decades, from implantable chips that will connect the human mind to the Cloud, providing instant and seamless access to information on a global scale.  I knew scientists and engineers were working on this, but this was the first I had heard one go on record with a firm projection of when.  In essence, he is saying, we will be networked.

Next, I read articles about the recent landmark court decision in California, as well as about ongoing idealogical school board dramas around the country.  One, I knew, was occuring in my own backyard.  Lastly, I turned to an expensive full page ad in the USA Today directly targeting teachers, something you would not have seen even five years ago.  Lastly, I checked my email, and scoured through committee calls, AIMS results, and even discussion about verbage changes in some policies at a state level.  And, sadly, it all felt so insignificant.

So now for lack of a better term.

Rarely do those engulfed in pivotal moments in history realize their participation or roles; they are often at those Crossroads, yet are so overpowered by now that they don’t recognize the larger momentum, shifts, and trends.  However, in the legend, at least Mr. Johnson recognized his actions were fateful.

Standing at those Crossroads, I’m extremely concerned that we are ignoring what is coming, that we debate wording, five minute swings in a professional day, or how many credits are necessary to retain certification, yet fail to comprehend we are on course to become increasingly vulnerable, less necessary, and potentially obsolete in our current form.

Potentially, none of fixate on now will even matter.

I have an overpowering sense that this is a pivotal moment and how we prepare and adapt will decide our fate.   What will public education look like by the time we are literally networked?   If basic knowledge no longer even requires your thumbs, what does that mean to the volume of our task?  When the time comes, will the public stand back and be awed by a nimble institution that adapted in anticipation of the future and truly ingrained critical thinking, creativity, design, and innovative problem solving into its purpose?  Will they admire an institution that inoculated itself from future trends because it recognized change and what its shifting purpose should become?

Or, will they disregard us as irrelevant because we allowed ourselves to become just that?  Will we have made it easy for those who wish to dismantle public education by becoming unnecessary? Nobody would argue that exemplary teachers are replaceable, but as an institution, have we done enough to proliferate such quality?  Do we have a coherent plan to get there?  Do we understand we must?  Or, are we so anchored to the mundane tasks, debates, and duties of the now, that we are being kept distracted and busy during a time that will define our future?

I believe we are at the Crossroads.  I wonder if we know it.


Mike Lee

Mike Lee

Phoenix, Arizona

I am the Director of Outreach and Engagement for The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and certified as a Middle Childhood Generalist in 2004. In 2012, I received my doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, however, I began my work in education serving as a para-educator in a special education program while still an undergraduate. My passions in the field include assessment and reporting strategies, the evolving role of technology, teacher leadership, and effective professional development that permanently impacts instruction. I consider myself a professional teacher first, as well as a professionally evolving lifelong learner, who is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children.

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