Simplicity is our enemy…


A couple of issues are nagging on me and, as I watched an old TED video by Dan Meyer, some thoughts formed on why we are struggling with change and reform in schools (or anywhere for that matter).  Dan quoted David Milch with the following when reflecting on the ills of a sit-com society:

It [television] creates an impatience … with irresolution….

We can see examples of this in every aspect of life.  We see it in politics and government.  We see it in advertisement and product delivery.  Certainly, in computers and technology, we have examples of this modality where immediate gratification drives our interest and decision making.

In fact, a recent parent conference confirmed my ongoing frustration with this simple solution mentality.  My son, who is generally a capable student, made a mistake on a recent test.  In one section of the test, he failed to read a direction that required students answering false in a true/false section to also correct the statement to make it true.  Like many of his classmates, he failed to follow this subtle direction and, thus, an “A/B” grade became a “D.”  At the conference held to discuss this issue, it also turned out that this was an object lesson in “following directions” and the teachers actually expected many of the students to mess up.  As luck would have it, the principal sat in on our conference and reiterated the school’s belief that this was a fair judgment of what my child was “taught.”  After all, “we have to teach kids that there are consequences in life and you don’t always get second chances.”

After holding my breath for a few moments, I simply asked for assessments that actually measured what my child knows and can do.  The response was, “we are not doing standards based grading, so we can’t do that.”  Interesting for a district that cites Stiggins on their website as a key reference and has pride in a “guaranteed and viable curriculum.”

So here is where simplicity fits into this discussion:

  1. We like the simplicity of object lessons, because it means we don’t have to monitor students as they work to assure success.
  2. We like the simplicity of quick and easy solutions because we can stand stoically behind them as ingeniously logical and sustainable despite the mythology upon which they are based.
  3. We like standardized tests and common core curriculum because we don’t have to be accountable for the hard work or results associated with our own professional expertise.  Instead, we can just implement and follow instructional guides with little thought to adaptation or unique insight.
  4. We like the political election cycle because we can regularly blame whoever is in power and vote them out only to find similar reaction to those elected in the next cycle — and on and on and on….
  5. We like to eliminate technology and leading edge curriculum from schools because they are far too complex to allow in a simple solution environment — and we might have to struggle a bit to get it right.
  6. We like making parents sign forms (with a witness signature) for every image that may accidentally be displayed on a school website (if there were any school website pages actually updated regularly) because we like the simplicity of signatures and absolving ourselves of responsibility.
  7. We like the simplicity of spending oodles of money contemplating geo-engineering to fix our planet in the future rather than conserving resources today – it’s simple and I don’t have to deal with it.

You get the picture?  We have allowed simplicity to guide our thinking to the point of seeking the 30-minute solution to all our problems.  We elected a president to a 4-year term of tough change only to be abandoning his efforts halfway through our commitment. We look for simple and quick solutions around every corner.  An economic meltdown should be solved in a fortnight.  Somebody please wave the wand and make 10% unemployment turn into 5% by morning.  Elect me and I can make that happen.  Right!?!?!?!?

Politics, education, and life are complex matters.  Get used to it.  Turn off the TV, read a book (I dare you), write frequent letters to your elected representatives, and realize that the world still turns at roughly the same velocity as it did decades and centuries ago.  Give our kids a break and let them explore the wonders of the universe rather than just mastering the drudgery of sanitized benchmarks.  Open their minds instead of hardening their hearts. Please?!

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