Anyone looking to find a true north in education today would likely be very frustrated. Myriad interests pull various directions in the promise of better education. In the U.S., and in many other countries, there exists the entanglement of politics, differing philosophical positions, and commercialization confounding the general vision of modern education.
But what of the status quo? Is anyone a proponent of having education just where it is now? Why reform?
While it seems like a taboo subject among most higher profile education entities, the status quo may not be so bad. For the record, I am a proponent of innovation and a move to a much more technological pedagogy, yet I cannot attest with any certainty that this direction is good for all. Herein lies the problem. Even the most studied and caring people are looking for a magic wand, Superman, or the next “education president.”
But why? To what end? Whatever grand new scheme that is put in place will still not be a good fit for every region, every neighborhood, every population, every classroom, or every student. So in the end we are still leaving many behind with any of the current proposals. We push changes that benefit different students, not all students.
In some schools today, students are learning very well. Teachers are motivated, curriculum is relevant and interesting, and kids are learning how to take control of their own learning. Perhaps it is one classroom that is producing high quality education in a school that is troubled. Maybe it is just one student. Do our initiatives, our reforms, our philosophical camps consider that any change makes possible the erasure of those functional, efficient, and otherwise bright educational situations?
I think any change in education, whatever the motivation, rationale, or mandate upon which the change is built must address the following in order to prove the change is benign for all:
1. Are children who are currently in excellent learning situations–individual or on a larger scale–able to bring the best of these situations into the change? Or will we steal from Peter to pay Paul?
2. When we consider individualization, do we consider the reality that some individuals learn best in a classroom with other students, with a teacher at the front of the room? How will we know which students thrive with this type of education? Will we throw the baby out with the bathwater?
3. Is technology used as an option? If not, how is it rationalized? Can all students learn well with technology? If not, do we give them other options? If not, how do we justify this? Technology use for the sake of appearing innovative is not positive change.
4. Do we spend more time pushing change, or studying students? Student test data is worthless if we do not fully understand how students learn. We look at a lot of test data, but how often do we find out how our students prefer to learn, how they best can continue learning on their own? We so often throw the entire toolbox at the student, rather than carefully selecting just the right tool.
5. Finally, are there entities involved in education decisions that are indifferent to the goal of student learning? If so, then they must be eliminated from the sphere of education. Completely.
First, do no harm. If reforms cannot unequivocally claim this, then the status quo might not be so bad. That is not to say that education must not evolve, but instead that it must not be pushed in ways that solve old problems by creating new ones.