Posted by: crudbasher | October 5, 2012

When Teachers Hold On Too Tight

I read this really good blog post from Ira Socol titled Changing Pedagogy vs. Teacher Identity. In it Mr. Socol lays out a case that change in education doesn’t happen because the people who make up the education system refuse to consider alternatives to “how it’s always been done”.

There are several great parts of this post so I’ll quote them and then add my own thoughts.

“…one late night I watched The Story of Louis Pasteur on Turner Classic Movies. And in that movie I realized something – that it took Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister forty years to convince the world’s doctors to wash their hands. This seems – to us, as it did to Pasteur and Lister – a tiny thing with huge results, patients stopped dying at a 50% rate from infections, but it was massive because it threatened the entire self-image of the doctors. In order for the doctors to make this change – in order for them to stop killing half their patients – they had to admit that they were not quite the “healers” they imagined themselves to be.”

I didn’t know that story but it perfectly illustrates what happens when a group of people become insulated from feedback. What I mean is since they were “Doctors”, they knew better than everyone else about medicine, therefore they can ignore everyone else. I wrote about this previously several times. First in The Guidance System of Education I talk about the lack of feedback in the school system. This is caused I believe by the indirect funding of public schools. Teachers therefore answer to the government, not parents. Second, I talked about How History is Repeating Itself. This is a discussion about the Industrial Revolution and how it shaped the current school system. Mr. Socol is exactly right, there is sense in the education system that they are the only ones who should be entrusted to reform the school system.

Mr. Socol goes on.

“Today, education is caught in the trap which suffocated medicine 150 years ago. Pedagogy and the structure of schooling does not change because so many of those who practice and lead it refuse to confront their egos and their self-images – and this ranges from the teacher who still uses worksheets and grades compliance to Arne Duncan, Michael Gove, and even Barack Obama.”


“So when we challenge the old pedagogies and old school structures we attack the entire self-image of these educators. We not only challenge their life’s work as “educators” – we are in fact saying that often they are doing as much damage as good – but we are also challenging their entire identity and self-worth.”

Yes yes that is a brilliant insight. I wrote a post on this called Necessity is the Mother of Invention where I talk about that as long as the education system keeps getting funding, nothing will change. The education system is a massive bureaucracy, specifically designed to be resistant to change. This is because it is an assembly line designed to churn out massive amounts of workers, all trained to some minimum standard. These workers can then be interchangeably inserted into the labor force. A certain percentage are sent to college to become managers but even then, standardization is the rule. Grad school is the only place in the education system where individual creativity is encouraged, but that was only designed to produce the next generation of college professors and some researchers.

Education reformers get off track when they try to fix what is wrong with the education system because there is nothing wrong with it. It’s doing what it was designed.

One last quote from Mr. Socol.

“I am not going to pick on teachers or the teaching profession because I believe it to be the most important job in the world. But I am going to say that teachers must learn every day, from brain research, from observation, from great practitioners. And that learning must change their practice every day, otherwise, they are simply not demonstrating their learning.

 And I will say that teacher excuses, “I don’t have the time,” “I’m busy,” “I don’t get paid enough for this,” “We tried this before and it didn’t work,” can only be used by teachers who consistently accept those excuses from their students.”

The issue here is why would teachers want to do this? It’s extra effort, and usually will cause waves with the administration. Make no mistake, the administrators want things to go smoothly. They have absolutely have no incentive to take any risks at all. Their message to their teachers is usually be quiet, do your job, don’t make waves.

Certainly there are some very good teachers who are constantly pushing themselves to get the most out of their students but what percentage are those? How many end up quitting in frustration after years of struggle?

My conclusion about all of this is the current education system with schools, classes, teachers, busses, lunches, books and homework is obsolete. It will be replaced gradually with a system of alternatives consisting of things like homeschooling, game based learning, augmented reality learning and local vocational workshops. In one of my previous posts I listed the characteristics of learning in the future as I see it.

1. A student will take a variable amount of time to learn each skill.
2. Advancement will be based on competency not age.
3. At the beginning of instruction, the outcome will not be known; indeed it will be different for each student.
4. Once the learning starts, it will never end; it will be life long.

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