Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why is education not life or death?

Recently, George Couros published a post in his blog, "The Principal of Change", wondering whether change should be considered the constant when talking about changes in education.  I could not agree with him more, and it makes me wonder why we might consider the need make changes to our current system of education "optional", or that this need is something we might in fact be able to ignore.  I don't believe that we can ignore change, in fact, quite the contrary: I feel that we need treat education like a life or death situation.  Any student that we lose from our system needs to be considered to be a casualty.

Imagine taking your child to a doctor's office when they are ill.  You are nervous, as your child has not been feeling well, and this has gone of for some time.  You have tried all the usual things that a parent might try, and to the best of your knowledge as a parent, you have run out of options, and you are seeking the help of a trained professional.  Then, imagine the doctor telling you and your child something like this:
“Good afternoon, I will be your doctor for today. I have been a doctor for 22 years, and have been working in the same office since I started my career. I meet with my colleagues and the hospital administrator once per month to discuss our workplace, and go to a few of one-day seminars each year on different topics related to medicine. No, no, you don't need to tell me your symptoms, I have a method that I have been using that has been successful in 86% of my patients. I don't know about you, but I hear about all of these new-fangled ideas in medicine, and they sound great, but given the resources I have, I find my method works just fine. If your child does what I tell them, they will have a good chance of surviving. If they don't, they will die.”

Would we accept this?  Would we accept this for our children?  In matters of life and death for our children, I would think not.  Nor would I ever expect it from a doctor.  Yet judging from how we seem to shy away from change in education, I sometimes wonder whether we do accept it in our current system.

Just pulling up a report on graduation rates across the US (, I read that the national average across the US is about 69%.  In 2008, more than 1 million students left US high schools without a diploma.  The cost of this to the United States is estimated to be over 319 billion dollars in lost wages.  319 billion! 

I am not here to comment on the accuracy of this report, on all of the numbers and where they got them, or how all of this figures into a cost. Let's not quibble about the actual number of students--let's just say it is HUGE.  Who cares about the actual dollar cost to society--let's just say it is STAGGERING.  This is not a comment on graduation rates in the US, it is just an example.  The achievement gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal students in British Columbia is equally unacceptable.  But if this were a report documenting statistics about casualties in the medical system, I would hazard a guess that we wouldn't be sitting around 'thinking' about changing things or worrying about how people felt about change.  It would be a call to arms!

Imagine how that visit to the doctor could look different, if you sat with him and he said:

“Good afternoon, I will be your doctor for today. I have been a doctor in the same clinic with 18 other doctors for the past 22 years. On a weekly basis, my colleagues and I collaborate to discuss our cases and our medical practices and techniques so that we can continually strive to improve the success rates of our patients. As a collaborative group, we investigate research-based best practices to meet the evolving needs of our ever-changing clients. When you come to our clinic, we will assess your symptoms and determine what procedure will work best for you. We guarantee that this process will be successful.”

A doctor saying that to you would help put your mind at ease that you child, your most precious commodity, was in good hands.  But for the doctor to say that, he would have to have support, and I believe that the support that his hospital administrator would have to give him would look something like what we need to give to our teachers.  That list might include:

  • Excellent training, including an internship
  • Assessment of that training based upon proficiency, as opposed to percentages (I would rather not have the doctor that got 52% on the appendectomy unit)
  • Mentorship in the early years of practice
  • Adequate resources and access to the latest technology
  • Embedded professional development
  • A supportive and collaborative environment that promotes reflection, sharing, the use of research-based best practice, and data-supported decision making
  • And ???

This is not an exhaustive list, and I hope that others will add to this so that we can help our teachers continue to be and become the doctor in the second instance, and avoid “educational casualties”. 

It truly is a matter of life or death!


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