In almost any other venue in American society, when something is not working properly we waste little time before we fix it. We may try to fiddle with the problem for a while but if that fails to produce the outcomes we want we move quickly to revamp or replace a faulty component or process. Very few of us are willing to put up with disappointing outcomes.
This is especially true in business. Few businesses can endure dissatisfied customers as doing so is the quickest way to lose one’s business. When a pattern of disappointing outcomes is recognized, business owners feel a sense of urgency to find a solution. Only rarely will tinkering or other incremental adjustments do the trick. What is needed is a trip back to the drawing board, analyzing feedback, clarifying purpose and objectives, challenging one’s assumptions, and finding a new solution. Very often, the new solution involves a radical departure from the manner in which things were done in the past.
“But, this is the way we have always done it” is never an acceptable answer to dissatisfied customers. Learning how to be an agent for change is one of the core principles of positive leadership.
How is it that the American people can be tolerant to the point of disinterest in the fact that millions of American children are failing in public schools. Disadvantaged kids failing in a nation that boasts of American ingenuity and its commitment to human rights? It seems incongruous. Do we not care about disadvantaged kids? Do we think them incapable of learning and therefore undeserving of our time and attention?
In my last blog post, I quoted Linda Darling-Hammond from her book The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future, (Teachers College Press, 2010). Dr. Darling-Hammond is President and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute, a Professor Emeritus of Education at Stanford University where she is Faculty Director of the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. She wrote:
“A business world maxim holds that ‘every organization is perfectly structured to get the results that it gets.’ A corollary is that substantially different results require organizational redesign, not just incentives for staff to try harder with traditional constraints.”
In the midst of the failure of so many of our most precious children, how is it that public school educators do little more than ask teachers to try harder while the education reformers are on a mission to shut them down? How is it that public school educators and the advocates that support them leave some of the most fundamental assumptions in public education unchallenged? Challenging assumptions is also one of the core principles of positive leadership:
• Does it really make sense for the education process at work in our public schools to be structured as if education is a race to see who can learn the most, the fastest?
• Do we really want public education to be a competition in which some kids win and others lose?
• How can we continue to justify asking children to move from one lesson to the next, one semester after another, and from grade to grade when they are unable to apply much of what they were expected to learn.
• Do we never second guess our tradition of accepting the failure of a significant percentage of public school students as an unalterable given?
• Does it still make sense to ask all children to progress through academic standards at the same pace as other children of the same age, even though there is great disparity in their level of academic preparedness?
• Other than the fact that this is the way we have done it for over a century, does it still make sense to move students from Kindergarten through grade 12, changing teachers every year?
• Is it fair to kids who want to learn to see valuable classroom time usurped as teachers allocate increasingly larger percentages of their time to unmotivated students who act out in class and exhibit no motivation to learn?
• Do we ever consider the possibility that there might be a better way to help kids learn?
It is so easy to blame public school teachers, whom I consider to be unsung heroes, for the problems in their schools and communities but doing so is no different than blaming soldiers on the front lines of combat for the faulty strategy and tactics of their commanders.
Our public school teachers need our help not our recriminations and they need our patience as it is only natural that they be resistant to change. That being said, the best thing public school teachers can do in their own best interests and the interests of their students is speak out about the inadequacies of the education process.
The education process at work in schools all over the U.S., both public and private, does not provide our children with the best chance to learn and it does not place our teachers in a position to teach at the top of their ability. The education process and the entire system of public education is flawed. Not only is it destroying young lives it is robbing our nation and our society of its ability to provide a safe community for its citizens, to compete successfully in a dynamic world economy, and to participate meaningfully in an increasingly interdependent global society.
Public school educators are challenged to step back to a vantage point from which the educational process can be examined as an integral whole. You are invited to evaluate the education model I have developed and an accompanying white paper at https://melhawkinsandassociates.com/education-model-white-paper/ If you do not think my model will work, use it as a springboard to come up with something that will work. Use your experience and imagination as a positive force for change rather than be an obstacle in the way of progress.