This should be the last post in my series about how the EdStartup 101 “pain test” applies to 20th-century, factory-model schools.  Back in Part 1, we identified the problem: factory-model schools are still functioning as they were originally designed to function 120 years ago, but hardly anyone needs or wants the job they were designed to do.  In Part 2, we looked at the people who feel the pain and what they’re willing to do about it, and in Part 3 we classified a lot of solutions into four main categories:

  • doing the same thing (either because you don’t feel the pain, or because you don’t know what else to do);
  • reframing the problem (admitting that there is a pain problem, but looking for another cause than the system functioning as designed);
  • angrily trying to change things (admitting that the pain problem is related to schools, but blaming them for the “broken” system)
  • trying to get away (admitting that the pain problem is real and systemic, but choosing to escape rather than engage with the “broken” system)

In this post, we’ll address the remaining questions of the pain test.  I’ll keep discussing these issues here and offline, and I’ll report on my findings both here and on the official EdStartup form.

4. Why aren’t the current solutions good enough?

None of them address all aspects of the underlying pain problem: factory-model schools are functioning as designed, but their designed function isn’t what we need anymore.  Doing the same thing fails because it doesn’t even acknowledge the pain problem – and even in good and superior schools, good and superior students, teachers, parents, and administrators are starting to feel the pain.

Reframing does acknowledge that factory-model schools are designed for a purpose, but it fails to acknowledge that the design contributes to the pain problem.  Short-term success is quite likely, but long-term success is elusive even on 20th-century metrics.  No Excuses charters have high tests scores and high college admissions rates, but they’re struggling with college completion.  Schools that try to “solve poverty” with extra services find they need more and more services, more and more funding, in a time when less and less funding is available.

For most reframers, there’s a strong separation between us (the folks who operate the schools) and them (the poor, needy “clients” that we are “serving”).  Have you ever been a client getting served by someone with that attitude?  It breeds resentment, and it also can breed a culture of dependency – neither of which will contribute to long-term solutions.

Getting angry and seeking change feels really good in the short term, and it does acknowledge that there’s a systemic pain problem and that changing the system might solve the problem.  But when you’re angry, you’re really not interested in root-level changes.  You’re interested in revenge – and that’s not a great way to build a consensus around solutions.  Like reframinggetting angry leads to polarization.

As for leaving the system, it does, in fact, solve the problem … at least for the folks who leave.  But it doesn’t help the folks who don’t, or can’t, or don’t know how to leave.  And all too often, leaving the system means you claim that the system is “broken” – that it’s not functioning as it was designed to function.

5. How long has it been a problem?

In one sense, it’s “always” been a problem for the past 120 years. Factory-model schools were never designed to prepare all their students to be thoughtful, creative, innovative, independent thinkers; they were designed to train compliant factory workers who had the knowledge, skills, and mindsets needed to operate a factory.  But that was OK when we had a factory-based economy.  Over the last few decades, though, as manufacturing gave way to information and to whatever is happening now as the socioeconomic paradigm, factory-model schools moved from solving a problem to solving a problem that no longer exists to creating more problems than they solve.

6. How easily could something change to make the problem go away?

It wouldn’t be that hard – but it would be really difficult.  “All” we have to do is design and build schools around a new paradigm – not the factory, but the ….

You know, the ….

See why it’s really easy and really difficult? What do you think the new, post-factory model of schools should be?