Education’s Catch-22

Social Science Improvement Crap

We write so much about improving education, but we get so little improvement. The following list of Education Week white papers exemplifies our current approach to improving education. Furthermore, this list speaks volumes about our need for a new approach. Nobody looks at it and concludes, “Reading and following the suggestions in these reports is sure to inspire improved teaching and learning.”

• Longitudinal Data Systems in Education
• Digital Teaching Platforms: A Research Review
• The Blackboard K-12/Education Week Survey of Online Learning Preparedness 2010
• Learning in the 21st Century: Taking it Mobile!
• Same Goal, Different Strategies
• Differentiating Instruction: Teaching Differently to Improve Student Outcomes
• Center for Technology in Learning: The Power of Project Learning with ThinkQuest
• The Middle School Algebra Readiness Initiative
• Blended Learning: Combining Face-to-Face and Online Instruction
• Leadership Series: Improving Classroom Learning

Education and political organizations publish reams of improvement ideas from social scientists, technology proponents, education scholars and political think tanks. Rarely do we hear from philosophical teachers and principals. Education Week published my explanation for this in 2001.

Ten years later principals and teachers are still too busy to make their voices heard. When my graduate students, who are principals and teachers, express frustration over this, I say, “If you are ignored by those who sponsor and write education improvement reports, why do you pay attention to them? Do you always pay attention to people who ignore you?” This isn’t spite or sarcasm; it’s recognizing the worthlessness of the social science improvement paradigm.

Cut the Crap

In other words, I won’t read the white papers because:

1. They define being “educated” as achieving high test scores, which is a definition that does not inspire teaching or learning.

2. They assume teachers should be more “effective,” even though no “effectiveness” idea ever improved education, if it did not first enhance teacher appreciation for students, subject matter, and what it means to be educated. The irony is that school reformers and policymakers look for “effectiveness” because they are too blind to see that appreciation improves schools every day.

3. Finally, reports like these don’t discuss either the virtues of our educated nature or the vices of our uneducated one.  They discuss the teaching of knowledge and skills instead of virtue. They believe in social science research findings, which blinds them to the fact that all good teachers are philosophers, not social scientists. All who believe in the social science improvement paradigm should submit a description of a situation that was improved through the application of research findings.

My question is always the same. Was that improvement possible without greater appreciation for students, subject matter and what it means to be educated? If not, why don’t we promote greater appreciation for students, subject matter and what it means to be educated?

We have a Catch-22. Teachers, administrators, policymakers, professors, and reformers attended K-16 schools that modeled and taught understanding that is unimaginative, strong character that fears truth, and generosity based on pride. Reports come and go, but public education stays the same because improving education requires imagination, courage, and humility — the virtues not taught in K-16 schools.

Why is that so difficult to understand? It’s because we lack imagination, courage, and humility. Can you say Catch-22?


There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment