Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Knowledge Transfer and Wisdom Transfer

I concluded my last post with a statement that I believe is both provocative and true.  The reason I believe that education does not equal invention is because of the issue of information transference for, or not for, profit (which I won’t drag you through again, as that is so last week’s post).  So where does this leave us?  I believe this leaves us where we are today, which is in a world where some information (usually knowledge-based) is freely shared.  I also believe that much of the information that is shared freely is of a nature that will not fundamentally shake up the way educational infrastructure works.  We know we need knowledge, and we don’t tend to always reach further.

My reasons for thinking this are based on the qualitative and quantitative aspects of critical information.  I think of this in terms of someone who reviews information and makes critical decisions on what is good and what is not so good.  They analyze both the qualitative and the quantitative, but will put a heavier emphasis on one or the other depending on who is using the results of the review.   Shared information becomes public information and in this day and age, everyone has an opinion about what the information means.   This added acknowledgement of the qualitative has moved us towards a type of “movie critic’s forum” way of deciding what works and what doesn’t in learning. 

Picking up on the movie theme, the parallels between movie directors and school principals, producers and school boards, actors and teachers and all the other comparable complex phenomena shouldn’t be too hard to visualize as similar.  In both worlds if enough people are saying nice things about the story you brought to the screen or the school year you just orchestrated, it doesn’t really matter if there is a better movie or learning result possible.  It is in this context that the idea of critics’ forums are springing up around education, becoming more prevalent and main stream. 

Let’s remind ourselves how this works in the movie critics’ domain.  Beyond good story/bad story, cool cinematography effects, solid acting etc., the conversation of what defines a better movie possibility (aside from the reviewer’s summary of story’s parts) isn’t the professional movie critic’s prime concern.  Their concern is what they just saw.  The cleanliness of the theatre doesn’t usually come up in a review no matter how spotless the locale.  “I dropped some popcorn on the floor during one particularly intense scene and felt secure that the sign that read ‘Operating J Theatre Clean’ meant the 5 second rule was in effect” just doesn’t come up in most movie reviews.  Questions like the potential full adoption of 3-D becoming the standard once the technology removes the need for glasses, seems to be left to the paying public to decide.  Along the same lines, immersiveness defined as the audience’s ability to interact with the plot, not in ways that option out alternative endings, but that provides the viewer the opportunity to play ‘What if?” isn’t something critics are lobbying for.   A movie critic might have a personal opinion on the value of this, but as an audience member, my willingness to go to a particular movie with this optionality is not something that necessarily needs to be judged by a movie critic in order for me to determine quality; I only concern myself about the option if it is available or not. 

So what do education critics look at?  All sorts of things obviously, but it is the debate about what information should be transferred in learning that will be today’s focus.  Let’s extend the metaphor a little further.   In this case, knowledge transfer sounds like: “I think this is a good movie because”…  which is then compared with wisdom transfer: “what were the chances prior to release that Avatar would make more than it cost, or, why don’t recently produced silent movies need 3-D effects?”  (It is worthy to note that I can read the movie critic’s advice for free about why they hated the movie, but the answer to the wisdom questions just posed will have a monetary price attached because the answers aren’t known for certain until sometime in the future.  Oh the power of uncertainty!  In the examples above, the sums of money wagered on what movie will work and what won’t based on box office sales, can turn into staggering monetary gains or losses.)

What to make of this then when taking a critical look at education?  On the knowledge transfer front I cannot predict with certainty how much knowledge a learner will retain, only the amount of knowledge I made explicit and available.  So I can quantify the number of problems I made available to solve, and can even count up the number of interventions committed to remediate learning difficulties.  If my goal is to have the student recognize the arithmetic patterns across a series of algebraic problems so they can answer a set of never before seen questions on a test, I’m at the mercy of the learner’s ability to ‘recognize’ the similarities and ‘discard’ the false positives.   The assumption here is, the more exposure to a wider range of problems the higher the likelihood that this will occur.  Of course if this doesn’t turn out to be true, I’ll have a qualitative reason at the ready (Oh mercy me, but I did my job and they still didn't get it!)

Let’s compare this with what we can predict about wisdom.  Imparting  wisdom is even more nebulous in that neither inputs nor outputs can be quantified in isolation and still retain the title of Wise.  Through this effort we may discover what is true, but only under controlled circumstances.  In order to exhibit wisdom, the expectation is that emotion and opinion will defer to universal principles (Note: these are not laws…these are best guesses as we control less and less).  These principles are grounded in the repetitive nature of history, and history, as we know it, is never simple. We can’t guarantee that history will repeat itself, but we can’t ignore history either.  There is wisdom all around us, but to the uninitiated a tempting decision to ignore wisdom comes from the belief that one can defy history.

To me there is a great irony in all of this, and that is we believe that in transferring knowledge we are giving our learning ‘customers’ ALL the intelligence (in information form) they need to make better decisions (That they become wise).  This to me is an incredible assumption…that because you have the information, that you’ll know what to do with it.  I know I’m not the first person to point this out, but I’m also dumbstruck by the number of people who are convinced that this connection between ‘have’ and ‘do’ will become automatic for learners (never mind the bigger issue of ‘have …and do the correct thing’).  

Perhaps it is time to examine the Have/Do connection more closely.  Let us  assume just for a moment that cognitive scientists like Daniel Willingham have it right when they say that for most people the have/do function in our brain is memory-based and that as a species we would rather do things from memory than think our way through something.  Based on this, wisdom is never going to be developed if the “do” side of this relationship draws only upon that which we already “have.”   The reason for this should be obvious, in that, wisdom recognizes and draws upon what we know and what we don’t yet know -but may be able to connect to through a shared, rather than individual, past.  The reality is that knowledge transfer is easier to impart, while wisdom transfer requires co-opted study.  Complicated?  Very much so.  Vital?  This may be the thing that can save our schools.

Regardless of complexity of task, through multiple student observations I have come to recognize that to move a learner from someone who is knowledgeable to someone who understands, requires the cognitive exercise of determining which knowledge variables must be present in order to avoid misinterpretation or information loss.  I realize there are other factors at play when the mind is making meaning, but determining if both of these conditions have been met, seems to me to be one of the most powerful ‘doing’ exercises one can perform to move along the path to understanding, and eventually wisdom.   Notice two things here:

1.     The exercise builds off what we know, but requires both analytical and creative discovery efforts in order to succeed;
2.     That avoidance and loss sit prominently in this determination, which lends itself nicely to the belief that the brain is a survival tool.

If you opened the hyperlink to the co-opting science study you see high complexity (fact-value distinction) academics at its best, but this type of learning scenario based on the requirement of ‘doing’ wisdom can be constructed on much simpler platforms. One of my fellow bloggers, Dr. David Eubanks, does an amazingly thorough job of explaining this kind of survivability game

For me the continuum of knowledge - understanding - wisdom must be fully articulated if, as educators, we are going to fulfill the obligation of learning transfer with any degree of success.   I want the option of accessing wisdom in secondary school.  Dealing with difficulty and trouble should not be the exclusive domain of those beyond school.  Raising the outcomes stakes to substantial by making the use of wisdom a pre-requisite, gets people’s attention and shows them that the connection between learning and life is not transitory. 

I realize that everyone will have an opinion about the merits of this kind of risk exposure, but perhaps if the efforts to improve education aren’t focused solely on the ‘storyline of knowledge’, our understanding of how to achieve a better educational possibility might get advanced.  While many in the world of education are opining about the need for better knowledge transfer, I think it is time for that, and wisdom transfer as well.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Looking at some big stuff other than basketball

Upon returning from the first basketball practice of the season yesterday, I opened up my email to find a reply to a question/request that I sent out to Tony Wagner last week following my last blog post.  In that post I concluded with a question, and thought it might be interesting if Dr. Wagner had an opinion he might like to share.  Just to refresh, here’s the question again:

If society were to adopt new educational approaches that recognize best practice, or maybe even disruptive practice, what considerations in terms of the legacy systems already developed, must we address?

The reply from Dr. Wagner wasn't what I'd hoped for but was completely understandable.  It follows:

Thanks for the kind words, Dean.  No time for this right now.  Besides, I answer this question in the new last chapter for the paperback edition of the book.  You are welcome to quote or reference.
Tony Wagner, Ed.D.
Innovation Education Fellow
Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard

So the good part was that Tony Wagner was kind enough to extend a professional courtesy in a respectful way, and the less hoped for part was that I was now going to have to go back to the book and create a synopses answer from the final chapter and the afterword of his book.  After reading both chapter and verse again, here is what I thought stood out. 

Under the heading, 
Creating Accountability For What Matters Most; 
the case of the 2008 Virginia Beach Public Schools system wide ‘strategic planning’ change effort is highlighted.  In it, Jim Merrill (Superintendent VBPS) is quoted:

“It’s the hardest work I’ve undertaken in my career” Jim told me recently.  “We’re trying to effect change at scale, and we have to ‘play on two playing fields’ at once.  We’re still being judged by the criteria for ‘Adequate Yearly Progress’ and state accountability standards, while we are holding ourselves to a much higher standard.  We have to succeed at both.  It’s hard but it is the right work to be doing.”[i]

So my answer formulation process began with a comment from a superintendent who recognizes that a complete departure from legacy infrastructure is nigh on impossible.  Because ultimately some form of integration must be present in a change effort, taking on the challenge of adopting new (dare we say disruptive) approaches, increases the work not by a double (4+4), but by a factor of two (4x4).  . 

A direct statement on page 263 in Dr. Wagner's book conclusion section elaborates on this:

Finally, it should be obvious that there is no way to teach the competencies of critical thinking, problem solving, effective communication, and assessing and analyzing information, and so on without teaching academic content.  Subject-content material is what you think and write about, and problem solving is initially best understood and practiced as a part of the study of math, science, and social studies.  But in today’s world, academic content must be the means by which we teach core competencies – rather than through merely memorizing (and often forgetting) academic content for its own sake.  Students can always look up when the Battle of Gettysburg took place, or who General Sherman was, but they can’t just Google the causes of the Civil War and make sense of what comes up on the screen.  To understand such an issue, you have to know how to think critically, and you need a broader conceptual understanding of American history, economics, and more.  As we’ve seen, these skills and this kind of knowledge are rarely taught or tested in high schools today.[ii]

This recognition by Dr. Wagner appears to confirm the fact that any legacy learning system(s) must be addressed, and in all likelihood cannot be abandoned, if for the simple reason that: learning has many components, and each component has different facets that can't be ignored.  But the absolutes around what we address (what stays, what goes) at each level is still up for debate. 

The next step was to bring this information into the context in which I work, which led me to an initial examination of the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) website.   The AISI initiative (ongoing for around 10 years) can best be described as the place where ‘new approaches’ to learning are given a blessing by the local provincial government.  It is also the place where government sanctioned improvement efforts will be shared.  To anyone who has worked in scientific or experimental design situations, you know that the works performed by private industry or scientific research-park organizations are usually kept secret as the results are considered proprietary information.  These trade secrets are often monetized through either competitive advantage use (lower cost, higher quality processes and products as a result of the work) or sale (for example $1.5 billion raised from the disposal of Nortel patents after the company declared bankruptcy). 

In either case, the nature of the work performed in the R&D effort is of a sophisticated enough nature that there is a sense that the development effort will generate proprietary gains that are greater than the R&D costs. As mentioned in the last post (Some Reasons for Un-change), for-profit enterprises use R&D as a tool for increased profits.  Ineffective R&D that leads to losses rather than profits won't survive.   In education, where profiting isn't the goal we quickly find out that educational R&D is to be shared. Now I realize that the argument ‘for the greater good’ is going to be rained down upon me as the reason for this (and by the way, I’m all for the greater good).  Let's start with who pays for this research in Alberta.  It is the government that pays, so they get to make the rules around how the results get used. One of the results of this greater good utility through government support is when shared information results in fewer mistakes being made, and in education that makes a lot of sense.  There is also a fear that people will withhold discoveries if we suddenly put a price on what we've learned through our research.  Despite these solid arguments, I am going to argue that there are some fundamental flaws that manifest themselves when an incentive system is in place that fails to recognize the true personal value (ownership rights) of unlocking learning innovation.  This is especially the case when private industry still exists as an accepted part of our societal infrastructure.  I’m also going to argue that if someone can generate a learning innovation that is of a great enough value that it has the potential to be monetized, it is probably going to have to be of a type far more similar to that work performed to create innovation in the for-profit domain.   

As the next step down the answer path, here is what AISI says about itself:

AISI is a bold approach to supporting the improvement of student learning by encouraging teachers, parents, and the community to work collaboratively to introduce innovative and creative initiatives based upon local needs and circumstances.

By going to the following link you can find out more, while this fact sheet spells out things like goals, measures and data analysis.  In many respects this type of funding initiative on the part of the Alberta Government has generated some solid work that can be said to have improved instructional design and pedagogical outcomes.  What can also be said is that virtually none of the 2000 sponsored projects have come up with answers on how to solve the ‘factoring of effort’ problem that Jim Merrill and Tony Wagner allude to.  Additionally, these projects fail to address another important area that I outline next.

Within the AISI results repository are two documents, one, a University of Alberta study by Jim Parsons and Kelly Harding -Research Reflections About When Schools Work Well: 21 Specific Activities for Improving Schools, and the other, Colloquium on Large Scale Improvement Implications for AISI 2008.  Both begin the process of meta-analyzing some of the project data gathered so far.  Unfortunately neither document can be said to contain the secret formula that solves some of the common dilemmas of integration.  Digging a little deeper, you can go and look at any specific educational improvement project as project summary results.   The section “What did not work” speaks to the challenges faced by a multitude of educational improvement projects in Alberta.  Here are two frequently cited reasons (synopsized) for integration failure:

·      Compromise Challenge – where oscillating between old and new practice rather than adopting a discrete third way, eventually ends up compromising the hoped for systemic improvements or gains that were originally envisioned
·      Initiative fatigue/capacity limitations – Resources (human and capital) are used up before real change to the byproduct of the integration effort can be seen as self sustaining

These, and other reasons appear time and again when education reformers take on the large task of paradigm/shape shifting.  From the Colloquium document just mentioned, you can get a taste for how the educational establishment accepts the likelihood for failure baked into adopting new approaches when they state:

The (AISI) research draws on the traditions of school effectiveness and school improvement. School effectiveness is more directed to finding out what works in education and why. School improvement is practice and policy oriented and intended to change education in the desired direction. In the orientation on outcomes, input, processes, and context in education, both approaches have much in common. Today the two traditions are usually merged (Creemers, 2002, p. 343). Combining the two perspectives has led to using the school improvement vehicle and the school effectiveness knowledge base to enlarge our understanding of how schools operate and possibilities for improving them. By combining elements of both traditions, mixed methods rather than either quantitative or qualitative ones are used for description and explanation (Hopkins, 2001, p. 57). [iii]

This statement can be interpreted in a variety of ways, but I would argue that 'mixed methods' are used as more than descriptors.  From my perspective while working with this process for 7 of the last 10 years, the typical research and development process, which is iterative in nature, has been modified in school improvement efforts to constantly (due to the combining function) bring into question/doubt that which has supposedly been proven to be effective or ineffective.  Where conventional R&D explicitly states both quantitatively and qualitatively what has been observed, educators use something labeled “mixed methods” as a way of explaining things.  I believe that this approach hides the facts.  Even accepting that understanding is enlarged or possibilities have increased, the way educators use the evidence as an end rather than a means to an end, is somewhat unsettling.  Further evidence of this belief that evidence is an end rather than a means to an end landed in my inbox the other day when the provincial government asked me to provide feedback to a questionnaire titled: Welcome to the Preliminary Ideas for the Development of Guiding Principles for Curriculum Design-Online Engagement Opportunity.  Participants were asked to provide feedback to a series of statements using a four-point scale (agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, disagree).  Two statement examples follow:

            Curriculum evolves in response to emerging student and societal needs.
This idea is important to guide future curriculum development.

            Curriculum enables student-centred learning.
This idea is important to guide future curriculum development.

These “guiding” statements ask for an opinion on whether courses that are taught, should include something that can be identified as student-centred learning and should evolve with current contexts.  Has all the research (2000 research projects in Alberta alone) not been able to say empirically what the answers to these questions are?  Is it any wonder then, that when parents ponder a decision that has to be made between legacy ways of teaching and learning, and better ways of teaching and learning, those advocating for the latter are accused of living in a world of opinion rather than fact?  It would appear that when we go all the way back to the original question,

If society were to adopt new educational approaches that recognize best practice, or maybe even disruptive practice, what considerations in terms of the legacy systems already developed, must we address?

…our (Society’s) biggest challenge is that most of the current research work done in education has not definitively established what ‘Best Practice’ actually is.  Add to this what Jim Merrill mentioned when attempting to integrate his two worlds, and the magnitude of what needs to be overcome (starting with how we restructure education improvement initiatives) begins to parallel the world of very large numbers.  The consideration of what we address (what stays, what goes) floats in a world of sometimes-effective current processes and sunk costs in the work invested so far, with all of the implications that are attendant to that reality. 

Unless you posses the resources of a Bill Gates, anyone ambitious enough to take on this kind of challenge will most likely want to see some sort of personal benefit that is commensurate with the effort that will be required.  Additionally, the resources that will be needed to research the outcomes desired will need to be more aligned to the practices of private industry.  At this point the question society will want answered is, whether the cost of such an effort will generate the 'equivalent' of greater profits.   

Someone reading this might jump to the conclusion that I am advocating for the removal of educators from the professional learning process, but in fact quite the opposite is true.  What I am saying does mean  that professional learning should not be confused with real R&D.   Real R&D does generate a best practice model that is not up for argument.  And when real R&D is applied to probable outcomes (which is what education deals with most of the time) it won’t make a case for certainty, but it can make a case for what is most likely to happen should best practice be followed.  

Does this mean that education ≠ invention?  At least as things currently stand, that appears to be a true statement.

[i] (Wagner, 2008)
[ii] (Wagner, 2008)
[iii] (McEwen & Milard, 2008)

Friday, 18 November 2011

From adopter to blogger in 3 short months

Welcome to School of Life.  This first stab at a digital dialogue will hopefully grow into a space and place where people can come together to share ideas and information about how life and school need to be brought together in ways that eliminate distance, barriers, obstacles, obstructions, paranoia, and just about any other excuse you can manufacture to perpetuate Old School thinking.  In this place, Old School thinking is when convention wins out over the search for best practice.  'Thinking managers' are welcome to chime in, but hopefully most of the conversation will revolve around practices that appear to be changing our traditional view of what schools are and how they are 'supposed to work'.   If you believe you have discovered a shape shifting learning methodology, this is the place to talk about it.

The approach taken here will be one of looking at how school can, and should, be better integrated with the world around us.  There has been plenty of ink spilled on the shortcomings and inefficiencies of current general education models so we won't spend a great deal of time adding to the word stock already corralled (I guess I'm saying I'll be working hard at not letting this space degenerate into a 'misery loves company' forum). Rather, School of Life will pose many questions around a simple belief that there is a need for school, and there is a need for relevancy, so setting the conditions where everything in and beyond school once again makes sense, will be the primary goal.

Before going too much further, an About Me moment is probably appropriate.  My name is Dean, I'm an educator, consultant, advocate, coach and now nascent blogger who cares deeply about how education works.  In 25 years I've had many opportunities to try and make a difference in the lives of learners, and believe that for the most part I have done well.  I don't claim to have gathered all of the answers, but I do have a well developed sense of what learning is.  I am also of the opinion that in order for people in school today to realize any value from their efforts, there will be required some near galactic changes in how school prepares students for the future they face.  The starting or launch point is removing the idea that school should remain (literally and figuratively) within the physical confines of the school.  In a world where more and more of the connections we make are via devices, this concept of linking ideas in the physical sense will be a recurring theme.  Before anyone assumes by that statement that I'm a technology hater, or one of those people who believe that learning is first and foremost a sensory experience, stop!  I compute like everyone else, go mobile like everyone else, get out and play (occasionally) like everyone else.  In a sense I feel like I'm in the role of every learner here with one exception...I place a heavy value on experience, significant experience to be exact, and how critical significance to the learner must be front of mind at all times.

Over the coming weeks I hope to start to expand on the idea that school can once again make sense because what is happening is important.  If you are a learner, a teacher, a parent, a mentor, an interested bystander, or like me you have a little time on your hands and you'd like to join the conversation...please do!  I make no promises that every post will shake the foundations of education (this one certainly didn't) but I can say that beyond introductions there will be information shared that will be influential, substantial, and hopefully helpful.


Some Reasons for Un-change

A quick glance at the search results for the term “School of Life” pulled out a couple of interesting queries including a 2005 made for TV movie starring Ryan Reynolds and an organization in London, England known as The School of Life, where,

The School has a passionate belief in making learning relevant – and so runs courses in the important questions of everyday life. Whereas most colleges and universities chop up learning into abstract categories (‘agrarian history’ ‘the 18th century English novel’), The School of Life titles its courses according to things we all tend to care about: careers, relationships, politics, travels, families.

Needless to say, this was enlightening news, not in the sense that the term “School of Life” isn’t in some respects verging on cliché, but more so a reinforcement that the notion of school and life being connected in truly authentic ways has moved both movie makers and alternative post secondary school founders into action that addresses a perceived deficit (there's others out there like me :).

So what then of this notion that what school is, what purpose it serves, and maybe most importantly, what school generates in terms of learning outcomes, might be ready for a disruptive change.  Two recent books that take a thorough look at school reform, 21st Century Skills by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel and The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner set out to not only provide a rationale for systemic changes to education, but back their arguments up with instructional strategies and alternative educational delivery systems that empirically demonstrate results that are measurably better than the traditional learning models typically employed in most high schools.  So, despite the best efforts on the part of some school reformers, why is there a lag in mass adoption of new learning practices that work?

Let's begin to look at this question by drawing a parallel on a more global scale.  The same question could be raised around the topic of the development of ‘alternative energy’.  First and foremost, there is an established infrastructure that supports a world that runs on carbon chains just as in the educational world there is infrastructure that runs on semantic knowledge.  To develop both was a costly and time-consuming effort, and now there are many people within the general population who have a vested, economically dependent interest in our continued use of said energy and informational dissemination sources. 

In the energy realm, despite rising environmental resistance, infrastructure build out continues today.  Look no further than the current pipeline debate or the carbon sequestering technology debates for evidence that many people are in no hurry to let go of legacy systems.  There may be some who are looking for ways to reduce harmful environmental impacts, but it appears that not everyone is ready to abandon 'what has worked’ for the last century.

Ironically, the window of 100 years of protracted hydrocarbon use is about the same amount of time that the educational system as we know it today has had to establish an infrastructure.  Even with the recent introduction of alternatives like Charter Schools (which to me is like saying “let’s switch from oil dependency to natural gas”) the actual number of learning choices available is constrained by a political system that looks first to evolve the legacy infrastructure before entertaining the notion of adopting ‘disruptive’ methodologies. 

On the topic of the availability of new educational methods, another quick internet scan turns up a variety of interesting content ranging from history of school choice in the U.S. (see links below) to tables that argue for why choice in Ontario Public Schools is actually a myth.   Without broaching the inevitable politics that surrounds the positions taken by these authors, my question around ‘choice of learning methodology’ is based on a much larger event horizon.  To do this I need to once again return to the Energy analogy.

What I’m trying to establish here is a contrast between the ability to choose from 100’s of new car models (which would be the argument of 'choice availability' for those with the vested interests mentioned earlier) and the option of being able to drive something that doesn’t burn gas (or coal based electricity) when I go to work.  And what really upsets me, is that while many in the energy debate point fingers at one another about the hypocrisy of driving to an air quality protest in a gas powered vehicle, the tactic of clogging the dialogue with self-limitation arguments (“see…you aren’t any different than the rest of us”) would become baseless if real choices of equal utility and cost that were less harmful to the environment were available.  I want to make perfectly clear at this point that I’m NOT channeling Michael Moore, as this to me is less about the conspiratorial, and more about a general commitment to R&D.  In the meantime, the rhetoric flies, and little else is done to stem the current drift to complete climate degradation.

So the adoption issue begins at the macro level with two high barriers in place:

  • 1.     Resistance to change massive legacy systems for a variety of reasons, most of them economic based
  • 2.     Self-limiting, circular dialogue that obfuscates the issue of domain agency retention by those with vested interests in legacy systems

Change agents face both of these barriers across the professional spectrum, but Wagner (mentioned above) does a fine job of articulating a third barrier, which is nested within the culture of the education profession.

The culture of the education profession, in my view, is influenced by the laws of both nature and nurture: Nature: Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the sort of person who was attracted to teaching as a profession was a kind of craftsman-someone who enjoyed honing a skill and greatly preferred working alone.  This was also a person who valued security and continuity above challenge and change.  Nurture: The ways in which educators have been trained traditionally, and in which their work is organized in schools, reinforce all of these tendencies. [1]

This observation about the cultural tendencies of educators may not be unique when compared to other professions, but what really supports and encourages the somewhat static aspects of the education culture is the fact that government established education systems are not-for-profit.  That fact need not be an indictment.  I can say however that this leads to an inability to adopt many incentivization approaches commonly practiced by for-profit organizations.  At the very least, K-12 education lacks the tools of change available to for-profit organizations.  Government controlled means political first, instead of profit first, by nature.  Add to that, the fact that teaching somebody something is, for the most part, different than using that same person as a human resource to generate profit.  Each effort comes with its own idiosyncrasies, and those idiosyncrasies are quite different.

Even “independent” educators have little incentive to generate disruptive learning methodologies when society in general has come to recognize and accept education as a cost center as opposed to a profit center.  This draws me to a second irony when I think about the price of a liter of gas going up across the board at every service station in town…nobody likes it, but it is accepted as a cost of getting around.   Besides, the very idea of schools “competing” with businesses for profits in the marketplace would have just about everyone lined up to shoot the generator of the idea (thankfully child labor’s days have passed, at least in North America).

So to begin to try to answer the question “So why the lag in mass adoption?” we have to address the fact that there are many well established anchors that are both legitimate and illegitimate, and none are going away any time soon.  As a society we have grown familiar with our infrastructures, and to most, that is not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, when faced with the specter of disruptiveness, threat levels become so elevated in some, that defending outdated methodologies becomes the hyper intensive effort of choice.  To this day I’m impressed with how many parents, teachers and other interested bystanders believe that the pedagogical approaches used 20-50 years ago make complete sense today.  It is tough to argue with them when we are still using safer, more fuel efficient cars to choke our atmosphere.

Just the same, I believe it is time to ask the question: If society were to adopt a new educational approach that at least recognizes best practice, or maybe even disruptive practice, what considerations in terms of the legacy systems already developed must we address?  In the coming posts I’ll attempt to start to answer that question.  Today’s message should provide some hints, especially the part about the potential for educational research and development.  Imagine if you will, what the educational landscape might look like if educational developments could be categorized as Scientific Research and Experimental Development creditable work?  Could a granting or cost reimbursement system be established around such a concept?  Stay tuned. In the meantime, here are those links on school choice that I promised earlier.

Works Cited

Wagner, T. (2008). The Gobal Achievement Gap. New York, NY: Basic Books.