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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

If you send your children to school, you are inhibiting schools reform

Throughout history, no monopoly (or perhaps more accurately, no Keireitsu) has ever reformed itself. Equally true, no monopoly has ever been reformed by its current customers.

One of the greatest examples of wishful thinking is the adults who pretend they want traditional schools to change significantly, but still send their children to them. You can tell these people by their quotes such as:
  • I am very active in the PTA.
  • I have spent a long time looking at different schools before choosing this one. (Or the variation, I/we looked at a lot of towns before choosing this one for their schools.)
  • I am very direct with my children's teachers and let them know what I really think.
  • I have regular conversations with the principal, and (s)he agrees with me.
  • Because of the special relationship I have with my child's teacher, the teacher takes a special interest in my child.
  • Other teachers/schools are bad, but mine are different.
School teachers and administrators have necessarily developed the survival skills of pretending to listen attentively, pretending to nod in agreement, even pretending to make some changes. But ultimately, they are thinking a variation of the following:
  • Change is really hard.
  • If the school is really in need of change, why are you still sending your precious children here?
Again, no monopoly has ever been reformed by its current customers (or even trustees or other big donors, by the way). Monopolies only change if potential customers flock elsewhere. This is not because people in a monopoly are bad people - but they do suffer from a lack of imagination. IBM couldn't imagine Microsoft working. Microsoft couldn't imagine Google working. Google couldn't imagine Facebook working. And slews of customer advisory panels did not ameliorate the problem.

This "defection" even helps traditional students.  Imagine a student fifteen years from now with no choice as to what school to attend.  If there are no education alternatives being explored, this student will receive the same approach as used to today.  If there are a variety of approaches in practice, even traditional schools (ultimately filled with good people trying to do good things) will become more innovative because they will see that alternative approaches work.

Given that truism, here is a fun game to play. Look at the people on this list:
What percentage of these people have children going to traditional (public or private) K-12 schools? What percentage have children going to undergraduate universities? Masters programs? Doctorates? As they collectively pour millions of dollars at the current Keireitsu, does anyone really think they are capable of changing it? There is a reason we have this revolving door of panels and conferences and foundation work, and yet things only get worse.
These academic critics/supporters mean well. They are smart. They are accomplished. They are powerful.
And they are the problem.

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