State of General Educ LO6779

Marion Brady (
Thu, 18 Apr 1996 16:16:43 -0400 (EDT)

Replying to LO6712 --

Rol said,

>Mitchell was saying that the political and social forces that cause change
>to occur in an organization as fundamental as education were not yet
>strong enough, not yet broadly enough perceived, not yet ripe for the
>needed change. I do not like saying this, but I think it is true.

I'm in general agreement that our system of educating hasn't hit
bottom, but the picture is confused for me.
On the one hand, many (maybe most) who think that the system _has_
hit bottom react by advocating some version of "back to basics." (What
makes this reaction particularly discouraging is that it tends to manifest
itself most strongly in state legislatures, where much educational policy
originates.) If / when the time comes that there's universal agreement
that we have in fact hit bottom, what's to say that this won't, once
again, be the "solution" offered? It's no solution, of course (will
simply loop back and make "the bottom" an even deeper trough) but
decision-makers can't choose from options of which they're ignorant.
On the other hand, I need only to look at a post I got today from
an individual teacher--a stranger to me--ready to quit after 12 years in
the classroom and pleading frantically for help--not with discipline
problems or frustration with bureaucracy or any of that, but because she
thinks that, although she's doing what others judge to be a "a good job,"
she's convinced that something fundamental is missing. It's a lengthy
post. If I read between the lines right, what's troubling her is that
she's trying to give kids conceptual tools for dealing with chaos and
complexity, and the traditional curriculum isn't making that possible.
I think I can help her. But whether or not I'm successful, here
exists a counter to the above--a possibility for fundamental educational
change. Here's an obviously sharp teacher who's ready for it, and needs
merely an alternative paradigm. If such a paradigm presents itself and
she grasps it, isn't educational change underway?
This brings "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" to mind.
Have those revolutions come because of massive disillusionment with
existing paradigms? If I read Kuhn correctly, the answer is "No." If
change required anything even approaching general agreement that the time
was ripe, it'd never happen.
And that gives me hope. Unlike many, I believe that the
statistics bear out that the schools are doing a reasonably acceptable job
of doing what they've always done. The problem, as I see it, is
different. I think the _real_ reason we're heading downward educationally
is that we're simply not teaching what needs to be taught if we're to
survive as a society. The curriculum is so institutionalized that it
isn't even occurring to us to stop asking how we can do better what we've
always done and ask if we should be doing something fundamentally
different. But individual teachers are asking, and a few of them are
beginning to do things in classrooms so sophisticated that state
legislators couldn't begin to debate their merit.
An example of a fundamental missing of the mark: My state's
legislature is probably going to mandate in the next week or two that
algebra be a graduation requirement. But they aren't going to mandate
that students be helped to get a comprehensive grasp of the idiosyncratic
way they've been programmed to perceive reality, and without that (which I
know from experience that adolescents can grasp) the intellectual means
for thinking critically about what's perceived and for imagining
alternatives will forever be lacking.


Marion Brady <> <> Marion


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