Ask Why?

Courageous teachers

Courageous teachers

This is the week of comments sparking questions. From yesterday’s post, SAY, “I CAN,” my dear friend Arnie, and life-long educator, offered the following thought:

Remember dear friend, that public schools in the US were built not by educators but by the business/industrial community. They were structured as they are for two purposes: one was to train children to work in factories (this model came about during the Industrial Revolution). The other was to keep children out of the workforce until they were 16 so they wouldn’t take jobs from the adults (thus compulsory education). It makes lots of sense that the model has lasted so long. It feeds into the natural human need to control. Teachers generally come into the system out of the safety and security of their homes and then college. They are steeped in the “control” model and it certainly makes them feel more secure – so the system keeps on chugging.

It is only in those places where there are a few (both in the management and teaching ranks) people who believe in the substance of your “Say ‘I Can.’” posting that a different model can emerge – one that is student-driven (as opposed to the phony student-centered model).

Arnie is now retired. He was a visionary superintendent, one of the few I’ve met in my walk through education who challenged the chugging system and attempted to midwife a new model. Early in my career Arnie and I were crushed together under the wheels of the chugging system. We both emerged from the tire tracks with greater wisdom. He dusted himself off and gave it another go, and another, and another.

His comment created a feedback loop through yesterday’s post and gave rise to a question that has been with me my entire career. Here’s the loop: throughout my entire pass through the world of education I’ve heard, read, and experienced a variation of this thought: if we practiced medicine like we practice education we’d still be using leeches. In other words, we no longer use children to man our factories yet we still use and support the system created for that purpose. Beginning with the great Neil Postman’s book, Teaching As A Subversive Activity, written in the 1960’s, there has been a mountain of data, investigation, brain science, intuition and common sense…we know how to create great education. Here’s the question: Given what we know, why do we not do it?

I’ve worked with countless educators, primarily around systems change. Mostly, I’ve led them into slaughter – the same slaughter that Arnie and I experienced when we tried to create a system of learning that might replace the system of factory fodder. The slaughter is worth it because we emerge wiser, more experienced, sometimes disheartened, but mostly filled with the question that I just asked: why do we not do what we know to do? Why do we continue to support what we know to be destructive for our children?

In this light, Jim’s quote from yesterday is profound, “ I’ve come to believe this is less about can and can’t than about the challenge of doing. And not doing is always easier.”

The first recognition from my book, The Seer, is this: you don’t have a problem, you have a pattern. This example from the lost world of education is perfect. Problems confuse us with the notion that we can solve for it. We can’t. Patterns, on the other hand, can be broken. We have a pattern of seeing our children as fodder for factories in the age of the internet. This is not about whether we can or can’t do anything about our education system, it is about whether we will do it or not do it. And, as Jim wrote, “not doing is always easier.”

Go here to get my latest book, The Seer: The Mind of the Entrepreneur, Artist, Visionary, Seeker, Learner, Leader, Creator…You.title_page

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