I recently read an article “Education Needs ‘Remodeling’, Not ‘Fixing'”, which suggested to me that we should perceive that education might need“remodeling” instead of referring to it as requiring “fixing“. I think it was a good article, but I disagree with that premise. It seems not to acknowledge that some parts of our educational systems are “broken”. I do agree that stakeholders must come to the table with humble attitudes to collaborate effectively, but the road of humility is a two-way street. I think it is very unfortunate if semantics would keep anyone on the inside or outside of the school system from doing whatever it takes to make education better for our children.
When many schools have the dropout rates that they have, something is “broken” and needs “fixing“. Even though the graduation rate has increased nationally to 72%, at least 1.2 million students still fail to earn diplomas per year, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. When the achievement gaps are so high in this country, something is “broken”, and needs “fixing”. When schools, administrators and/or teachers are cheating to make test scores appear better than they are, something is “broken” and needs “fixing.”
Remodeling means to change the structure or change the form of a structure or policy. Yet, the form can change but old problems can still filter through, especially if our lens is not updated for our new vision. In other words, change of form does not necessarily net substantive “reform”. Something can be changed or “fixed up”, but that doesn’t mean the problems have been fixed. Remodeling can imply decorating and rearranging in a way that might camouflage the problem, but not necessarily “fix” the problem. It might massage you where you are, make you feel better, but not elevate your situation or take you to where you need to be to do better. Many educational systems might require both “fixing” and “remodeling” to be transformed as needed, beyond logical word forms and bureaucratic norms. But, we must prioritize. It’s hard to focus on “remodeling” a room while the roof is falling down. “Fix” the roof first! If you can accomplish both simultaneously, go for it! But, there must be measures in place to ensure that the roof is indeed getting “fixed”. If it isn’t, then the contractors must be held accountable for their work. All stakeholders must acknowledge their roles in where we are and in where we must go. This is crucial! Meanwhile, roof repairs must continue after some analysis of whether to change the staff, the supplies, the structure itself, the manner of application or interaction, the way it factors in its environment, etc., or some combination thereof. In the music industry, if CDs consistently aren’t selling ‘adequately’, then new songs are written , new management is sought, and/or new artists are found.
Some changes that trigger a need for “remodeling” are due to time and technological changes, but many problems existed before Facebook and the iPad! Reducing technology gaps can help to reduce our long standing achievement gaps when we incorporate technology effectively and creatively into curriculum. Conversely, the digital divide can widen the achievement gap. Nonetheless, being kind and humble doesn’t have to preclude us from also being forthright and truthful. I am grateful for the many wonderful teachers, administrators and schools! The whole educational system is not broken. But as a whole, many educational systems are in need of major repairs! We must be adamant about “problem-solving” to give the best quality education to our children. We can not quibble over semantics or sidestep around sensitive feelings! If parents and communities are to become educational partners, then people who are already at the table can’t allow their frustration to blind side them when others try to help to identify problems and potential solutions. The educational community should be willing to “graciously” help collaborators to become more informed regardless of its frustration and it must be willing to listen. If it already possessed all answers, there would not be so many shortfalls. This shouldn’t be received as offensive and I hope “professionals” aren’t that “defensive“.
Yes, some issues and educational vehicles might require being redesigned to improve education substantively. Yet, I think it is easier to collaborate with people who are willing to see where they might need fixing also. Truth be told, we can all do something better, stand some remodeling and use some fixing. Whether our mouths say that we are “remodeling” or “fixing” education, our eyes must stay “fixed” on the prize, and that is “our youth”. Successfully educating all of our students for the 21st century should be our vision and our focus! When students are not educated and supported with the necessary competence and quality to excel in college, career and assertive citizenry – then they will likely get into many “fixes” and easily end up “broke”, while not being able to afford much remodeling.
(Also see my article, “Changing Us, Changes Them“, in Parenting Magazine, July 2011.)