In conversations informally, or across the web, there are a lot of people saying “our education system is broken” or something similar. This bit of hyperbole has become so widespread that it is rarely questioned, and neither have it’s effects. I believe that most people in education are proud of their work, and after a hard days work it is unfair for the country as a whole to agree with this meme which implies our educators are just wasting their time.
Last fall I was sitting in a room with a bunch of administrators from across New York City and the Principal of the most accomplished school kept using the phrase over and over. In a meeting designed to “model professional dialogue” this guy would start each of his comments with some variation of the phrase, and then describe a number of things that sounded like opinion. I immediately stood up to this person. “What’s your evidence for this? How can we expect our students to apply critical thinking across all subject areas, and we don’t apply the same level of thought to our own profession,” I said. Ok, that wasn’t exactly what happened. I actually remained silent, as did the rest of the room, and that silence has bothered me since.
The collective silence of that meeting bothered me personally, because it both approves of that man’s statement, and diminishes and dismisses my whole career. If you accept that statement to be true, you accept that any and all educational suggestions should be immediately considered and implemented in order to deal with this rampant crisis. As people accept these blanket statements, they are agreeing that everything currently in place is also broken. This tells the world that the work that people have invested huge parts of their life in, that have even been successful, should be treated as a failure.
Moreover, the US education is too big and too complex to simply be “broken”. In a room full of educators, where people understand the intricacies of the field, we should expect people to step up and use the appropriate language and thoughtful analysis associated with being educated. We should call people out on using vague, non-statements such as “education is broken” to back up their ideas. We should follow up with questions like:
- “What about education is broken?”
- “What research connects the entirety of the US education system to your idea?”
- “How do you know other factors don’t explain the correlation between your idea and the entirety of the US education system?”
If we respect our profession, we’ll force each other to actually use the words that justify our educational ideas, and not just throw around vague generalities and accepting them with polite nods. It will force us to advance our dialogue and allow for more productive conversation with people in education, and the outside world. Side note: How appropriate is it to have posts like these about education in a teaching blog?