Reform as Principle. Reform by any other name…

How many times have we heard the phrase “education reform?” What does that mean? Everyone who considers themselves an education reformer thinks they know what reform would mean, but I think we need another word.

The problem is that when we talk reform, we are all using the same term to describe very, very different concepts. To some, reform means to rein in the out-of-control teacher unions and revise spending. To others, it is about embracing 21st century technology to create a different model of educating children. Still others think that reform is about privatizing schools into private academies. Countless other models of reform exist, some with formal platforms, and many with sketchily developed concepts. How did we get to this point?

What people mean when they use the term reform is change. They envision a change to the education system. The current model is problematic at best and fully broken at worst. So imagine school at the center of a vacuum, rather than at the end of a scale.  American education, particularly public education is not on a chronological evolution scale. It has not changed significantly or along a clearly defined path in many decades. It sits in a vacuum, absorbing environmental changes and creating micro-change within itself without ever actually evolving in any real way.

Part of this resistance to change is that the forces pushing change are pushing against it from myriad perspectives, essentially locking it in place. Progressives want change that conservatives oppose, and vice versa. Private v. public. Unions v. taxpayers, technology v. traditionalism. All of these forces push on the institution constantly, eliminating any change at all. I would go so far as to say that to many reformers, they would actually REALLY prefer things stay the same than move a direction they oppose.

Is there anything that can break this? Can reform actually create positive change? I believe so, but it will take a very serious, stern, and mature national conversation about principles. I don’t think we are actually talking about school reform when it comes up in national dialogue (?). What I think we are talking about is principle. And I think until the discussion about what we, as a society, value as our most important principles takes place, I think the school reform debate is going to be moot rhetoric.

I am not going to state my suggested principles of education because I think one person’s individual principles are irrelevant. I will, however, offer what I believe to be the key principle discussions that I think need to be resolved before a clear education reform blueprint can be drawn:

1. Do we as a society, wholeheartedly value the pursuit of knowledge, even if it reveals truths that challenge core human understandings?

2. Do we as Americans believe that every soul has a right to gain as much education as they can get, regardless of background or economics.

3. Do we as Americans see a correlation between the education of its citizenry and societal problems?

4. Are we, as human beings, committed to equality in all measures? Are we prepared to understand the power of inherent privilege in this society.

5. Will our society be defined by cooperation or by competition?

Education is a microcosm that represents the whole of society. if there are problems in education, they only represent problems in society. I think that is evident during this time of great polarization and social strife. When people speak of education reform, I urge people to be more specific. Is it union reform? Is it technology use reform? Only with specificity can we hope to deal directly with issues facing education in way that have a chance to actually create change.


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