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We are not immune…

February 3, 2010

Consider this scenario- you are diagnosed with advanced cancer…you must decide what sort of treatment to seek.  You have a choice between two doctors.  You meet with both and listen as they describe their planned methods of treatment.  The first doctor discusses the latest breakthroughs and innovations in cancer research and how they fit into a plan of treatment.  It is clear that she stays on top of the latest treatment methods and research.  She tells you that throughout the course of your treatment she will be consistently monitoring your condition and adjusting treatments to meet your body’s individual needs.

The second doctor proposes a method of treatment that was considered state of the art…in 1981.  No recent research, no advanced methods.  When you question him on his proposed treatment and the need to update his methods he says “This was good enough for my patients 20 years ago and it is good enough now.  I see no reason to change.”

Which doctor would you choose?  The question borders on insulting.  Of course you would go with the doctor who has stayed up on current research and best practice in treating your condition.  The scenario itself is preposterous because no doctor who was using methods that had not been updated in twenty years would even be allowed to practice, much less have patients that choose them for their healthcare.

So why do some in education seem to feel that we as PK-12 educators are immune to the need for change and improvement.  I can walk into almost any school in America and find teachers using methods if not actual materials that were generated during the Carter administration if not earlier.  The basic method of instruction in far too many classrooms and schools is remarkably unchanged from 20, 30, 40 years ago or more.  David Warlick has said of this generation “No generation in history will be so well prepared for the industrial age.”  That would be a compliment if the industrial age had not ended many decades ago.  The next generation needs to be prepared in a way that will help them succeed in the world they will inherit, not the one their grandparents did.  The shift in the economy, the workforce, and all other aspects of life in the last twenty years could not be more clear.  If you need convincing of that check out some of the information presented by Dr. Scott Mcleod of Iowa State University.  You can find his blog at

All of this data makes the need for sweeping change in education clear…however we as a PK-12 system still seem to think ourselves above it all.  We are the monopoly; the grand American public education system, and we don’t have to change for anyone.  Certainly an organization as large in scope and with such a storied and successful tradition as ours is not affected by cultural changes.  A great comparison to the current feeling of immunity demonstrated by public schools is that of the Big 3 auto makers that ruled America and Detroit specifically throughout much of the 20th century.  These titans of industry thought themselves immune to the changes in automotive design and fuel efficiency that were embraced by foreign auto makers in the 1960’s and 70’s.  The next time you bump into one of the executives of these companies, ask them how that feeling of immunity turned out for them.  Better yet, see it for yourself.  Find a picture of any large parking lot circa 1960 or before.  You can count the number of non Ford, Chrysler, or GM cars in the picture on one hand.  Now find a picture of a large parking lot today.  If the number of Toyotas and Hondas in the picture does not vastly trump the number of “American” cars, you need to check the date on your picture.

My point is they were not immune to change…and neither are we.  Students are not our birthright.  We have to stay current on best practice and the use of technology to prepare students for a technological world or we will lose them.  Just like Honda and Toyota were there to stand in the gap when the big three refused to change, so too can we as educators and an educational system be replaced.

The choice is ours.

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