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Educational Politics & Policy

(2) The Great Stagnation, Part 1: An Immovable Object?

Anyone from 1900 would find most of modern life unrecognizable.

“What’s that thing flying in the sky? What is this glowing object showing me moving pictures that talk? Where is that carriage’s horse? Why aren’t children dying from Polio? Why are women and blacks voting? What do you mean ‘open heart surgery’, are you stark raving mad? What are ‘nuclear’ bombs? Where is all this clean water coming from? Why is your outhouse inside the building? What’s ‘space travel’? AND HOW CAN A POT COOK FOOD INSTANTLY?”

But that same time traveler could walk into any school, especially a high school, and say, “Ah, yes, the young ones have one teacher. The students rotate among classes organized by discipline and grade bands until they graduate, then the smart ones go to university lectures. A lot of people hate math. This is just the way I remember it!”

And you would largely the same reaction if you were to walk into your your old schools, whether you graduated 10 years ago or 80 years ago.

Education is incredibly stagnant. By and large, we take it for granted that there will be no major innovations in the field. Why?

Bill Gates spent billions of dollars trying to transform education in the US. How did he assess his efforts?

“There’s no dramatic change.” ~ Bill Gates Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk

Of course, he’s not the only one to try. After countless reforms, elections, “Class Clowns”, presidents, premiers, panels, education ministers and secretaries, commissions, budgets, studies, academic articles, books, school boards, new buildings, charter schools, private schools, independent schools, vouchers, computers, networks, videos, online classes, correspondence classes, programs, philosophies, policies, curricula, standards, tests, textbooks, textbook versions, websites, Web 2.0, MOOCs, tinkering, and fads and trends of every type… the reality is that the vast majority of educational systems work the same way they did 100 years ago.

I bet military trainers would be familiar with training methods from 5000 years ago.

From grassroots organizations to heads of state and totalitarian dictators, from committed teachers to billionaire CEOs, educational systems are impervious to them all.

With the exception of literacy, there has been no breakthrough in pedagogy in thousands of years. Why?

Even incremental improvements are hard to sustain.

Have you ever heard a university say: “We eliminated selective admission because, over the past century, our teaching methods have improved by 1%/year. We can now do a great job of educating any high school graduate.” Of course not. How about from selective private schools, any elementary school, any corporate training program, or any organization at all, ever, even yours?

I’m guessing you haven’t.

Why not?

Quality controls have greatly improved manufacturing. Computers are way better and easier to use than they were 20 years ago. Television and movies are better than ever. The cost of air travel and even space travel have decreased dramatically. Nobody wants to go back to the medical practices of 1820 because today’s are unrecognizably better.

But, at the moment, your children’s education is on track to look a lot like your grandparents’ education.

Why is education so hard to improve?

This blog series will begin to answer that question and outline how Bravo Math Inc will, at long last, disrupt these millennia-old norms.

In Part 1, I’ve described a level of stagnation not even approached in any other area of life.

Part 2 will enumerate many pernicious and prevalent falsehoods of education.

Part 3 will describe how mastery should be measured. And, no, it’s not about evidence of learning.

Part 4 will explain the self-reinforcing nature of educational practices.

Part 5 will outline Bravo Math’s plans to bust the status quo and unleash epic change.

And, hopefully some time around 2030, all these posts will be viewed as prophetic.

We’ll see. 🙂

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