Posted by: crudbasher | May 7, 2012

Sherlock Holmes and The Case Of The Broken Education System

I have mentioned from time to time that there are three people who are currently influencing my thinking on how we will learn in the future. The first is Sir Ken Robinson who makes a passionate case that we need to teach our children how to be well rounded people and not just focus on STEM classes. The second is Ray Kurzweil who has done a lot of work on the accelerating pace of technological change. The third is Clayton Christensen who’s theory of Disruptive Innovation opened my eyes to change coming from outside of the current education system.

Sherlock Holmes

Recently though I realized there was another influence on me that I have had every since my childhood: Sherlock Holmes. Well, I suppose I should say Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was the author of Sherlock Holmes. He wrote a famous set of detective and crime stories set in England at the end of the 19th century.

Recently I started watching the new BBC show Sherlock, which is a modern version of the character. It’s pretty good and inspired me to start rewatching the 1980s BBC series on Netflix. As most Holmesians (yes, there is a term for the fans) agree, Jeremy Brett did an outstanding job with the character. Even though the stories are set in another time it’s the focus on the people that makes them still relevant. Modern day human being are still as fallible as the ones depicted in Conan Doyle’s original stories.

Jeremy Brett

Although Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character, as a child I was fascinated by the stories. In them Sherlock would match wits with various nefarious characters in the criminal underworld. I think those stories really captured my attention because of some of the really great things he would say. Some of those have stuck with me over the years and I realize that they have been guiding my thinking on education related matters.

“How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”

As I listen to various people talk about fixing the education system, I can see that most of them are based on various assumptions. Many people just can’t envision another way of learning besides gathering children together by age and having them listen to a teacher. In a way this is understandable. What we know tends to color what we see. Nobody wants to see their own doom do they?  I am not in public education therefore I have nothing to lose. I try to look at what is happening and then trace it into the future. Sometimes it leads into some very different places but I go there anyway.

“You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.”

One of the biggest failures I see in education reform is to treat the education system as its own self contained world. I don’t see it like that and Sherlock Holmes certainly wouldn’t. Context is everything in this case. The education system is a reflection of the society it was created by. The problem is, the society that created it has moved on. In fact, the current education system is probably more suited for Sherlock Holmes’ time than today!

“On the contrary, Watson, you can see everything. You fail, however, to reason from what you see. You are too timid in drawing your inferences.”

So is there a single solution to education our children? No matter who wins the next US presidential election, they will propose a new (expensive) program that will fix our education system. The end result will be the system will become more expensive. That’s it. Of course, I think the real purpose is to make the voters think the government is doing something about it. In actuality, I have very little faith in the government to be able to improve the situation. As organizations become larger, at some point their main purpose changes from what they were created for, to self preservation. It’s just a natural instinct I guess. They stop innovating and taking risks and play it safe. I would submit that the public education system has been like that for 50 years. They are frozen in time.

“Education never ends Watson. It is a series of lessons with the greatest for the last.”

I believe if you just observe the world around you, God has provided you with all the faculties to make sense of it. Start with an open mind and be prepared to follow the trail wherever it leads. Be passionate, tenacious and above all, love the pursuit of the truth as I do. I am sharing my detective work on this blog and will keep trying to forecast the coming storm of change in education so people can prepare for it.

“Good old Watson! You are the one fixed point in a changing age. There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.”



  1. I really enjoy coming in from my day with my students and reading your thoughts.. They have inspired me to seek out thinkers like yourself in education.. Thank you!

    • Hi Virginia,

      Thank you so much for your kind comment. It made my day! 🙂

  2. […] Sherlock Holmes and The Case Of The Broken Education System « Education Stormfront. […]

  3. Absolutely incredible article my friend! As a Mentalist, Psychological Performer & Consultant I am a huge supporter of anything and everything education. However it is my lifelong love of Sherlock Holmes which lead me to this article. His methods (rather the methods of Dr. Joseph Bell) having been such an influence on my work. This is a lovely intertwining of the two monolithic topics.

    -Joe Riggs

    • Thanks for the kind words JoeRiggs!

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