How would you finish this sentence?:
“If I ran the world ”
Too difficult? How about this one: “If I ran the school district ”
Or, maybe: “If I chose the curriculum ”
Or: “If I could just run the school ”
I’ve been an editor here at ASBJ for 11 years, and in that time I’ve naturally formed some rather strong opinions about how to achieve what’s become known, broadly, as school reform. I’m sure others who write about education — and those of you who work in the field — have made similar observations and judgments.
So where do I stand on issues as diverse as technology, standardized testing, portfolio assessment, teaching the Bible, sex education, bilingual education, and a basic core curriculum versus a more expansive one?
Well, in the center, of course. And just who defines “the center?” I do, silly!
You see the problem here, and it was not lost on me when I did research for ASBJ’s August cover story: Taking Risks for Reform: The Difference Between Success and Failure in Education Reform.
We all tend to think that our ideas are the right ones, the rational ones, the most reasonable. Trouble is, those with vastly differing views probably think their ideas are pretty rational too. Which means there is conflict. Which means we must compromise.
In the article, I quote Michael Fullan, of the University of Toronto, who says in The New Meaning of Educational Change that it is critical to develop “shared meaning” among groups and individuals for educational reform to have any chance of success. Even rationality — however one defines it — is not enough.
“Forceful argument and even the power to make decisions do not at all address questions related to the process of implementation,” Fullan writes. “The fallacy of rationalism is the assumption that the social world can be altered by seemingly logical argument. The problem, as George Bernard Shaw observed, is that reformers have the idea that change can be achieved by brute sanity.’”
As you know, school reform doesn’t happen in a laboratory but in a complex social environment where myriad ideas, opinions, hopes, and prejudices influence the course of events and help determine whether reforms succeed or fail.
Accompanying my article are stories from four districts from around the country that are dealing with these competing interests as they seek to improve education for all. Tell me what you think of these efforts and of your own experiences with school reform as well.
Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor