Saturday, March 05, 2011

Musing on how to fix education; also on innovation in general

I have no hard data on this, but I suspect that successful innovations NEVER come from the top. I suspect they are always bottom-up kinds of things.


Because the people at the top--the ones who are responsible for implementing policies and running organizations and governments--don't need the innovations. They are where they are because the system worked for them, and it is the thing that gives them power. Why change something that isn't, for them, broken? In fact, the people at the top wouldn't really WANT innovation--it threatens their power and also the structures that they understand and know how to manipulate.

So innovation has to come from the bottom--from the people who the system ISN'T working for, from the people in the trenches who are making it work but can see the problems up close.

Not only are the people at the bottom the ones with better vision of what needs to change, they're the ones motivated to change and keep the change going.

So I don't want to really talk about government here, although you could take the ideas there (the value of having regular citizens elected to office rather than career politicians, etc). What I've been thinking about is Education.

So far, all the government's grand ideas about fixing education have made things worse.

So who do we ask for innovation? How do we fix education?

We could ask the teachers. They're in the trenches.

And they'll tell you all the resources and great ideas and fantastic plans in the world can't help students who refuse to (or cannot) learn.

For example, students who are hungry because their families are too poor to feed them well--they can't learn. Students who live in poverty have a hard time getting the resources for learning (things like pencils, paper, etc--that expensive "supplies list" the teachers send home is out of reach for a lot of families).

Even worse, students sometimes just don't care. In Vegas, Tim went to a lot of schools teaching workshops and doing presentations. He noticed that the teenagers just didn't care. Their parents were making good money working in casinos--dealing and dancing, mostly--with no education. So what's the point?

Any number of government programs won't fix the don't care.

And some students are dealing with such broken homes that they can't care. Abuse, neglect, drug-addict parents, single parents who are at their limit just trying to keep a roof overhead and food on the table.  I know a kid who was working full time to support himself and his dad while he went to high school. When he got off school, he'd go to work until late, sleep 5-6 hours, and start over. How can a kid like that succeed in school?! The cards are stacked against him.

The solution to the education problem (separate from defining educational success properly--ie not by how we do compared to other nations on tests in Math and Science--which is an entirely different topic) is not going to be found in threatening or firing teachers, in fancy grant competitions, in mandatory testing, in a national curriculum, in matching funding to test scores, in bigger budgets or more technology. Not even in smaller classes or better-trained teachers.

The solution to the education problem is in the home.

If we want to "fix" our education system, we need to fix our families, and make healthy families a priority.

In fact, I suspect if you dug into ANY SINGLE PROBLEM our nation faces, you'd find the solution ultimately boils down to strengthening, supporting, improving the families.

I can't say that broken and weak and stressed families are the CAUSE of the problems in the nation (I think wickedness, selfishness and a strong push to eliminate the concept of repentance are). But I do think that strengthening families would be the key to the solutions. You want to tackle the drug problem? Strengthen families. You want to fix the overcrowded prisons, gangs, widespread corruption? Strengthen families.

When a society is crumbling, making more rules isn't going to help. Fixing the roof and painting the walls of a building won't do a stitch of good if the foundation is crumbling.

Families are the fundamental unit of society.

If we want a strong nation, it can't be made from broken parts.

Somebody should tell the government.

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