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In the other posts in this series, I’ve applied the EdStartup 101 pain test to 20th-century textbooks (here) and to 20th-century, factory-model schools (here, here, here, and here).  I’ve also been talking to a lot of people about their pains related to textbooks and schools.  If you remember, I said

  • The core problem with textbooks is the underlying assumptions about knowledge that they embody.  Textbooks presume a world where knowledge is scarce and inaccessible and slow to change.  So you need experts to find the knowledge, put it into a form that novices can understand, and package it so the novices can digest it.
  • The core problem with schools is harder to define, but I think it’s also related to the underlying assumptions.  Factory-model schools assume a factory world – a world where large, stable organizations need a constant, large supply of relatively low-skilled workers and a constant, but much smaller supply of higher-skilled, more specialized workers and managers.  They’re built for a relatively homogeneous society, one where outlying groups (the poor, new immigrants, members of ethnic or cultural minorities) want to, need to, and ought to be assimilated into the Melting Pot.

Do you remember the Great American Melting Pot? Here are the lyrics if you’d rather read than watch.  As a child, I loved the song; as an adult, I think “Wow! How times have changed!”

It’s almost painful to watch and hear this song I loved as a child.  And that pain is related to the pain we’ve been talking about – the pain that comes when assumptions and world views clash and collide with each other.

For textbooks, the pain point is the huge gap between their underlying assumptions (scarce, inaccessible, slowly changing knowledge transmitted by experts to novices) and the 21st-century world where knowledge is hyper-abundant, universally accessible, and constantly changing.  For schools, the pain points are the gaps between their assumptions (preparation for stable, “melting pot” factory society) and the post-industrial, multi-cultural “stew” or “salad” society that’s replaced the mid-century industrial melting pot.

I’ve talked with dozens, maybe even hundreds, of people involved with both schools and textbooks.  You can see some of their responses in comments on this blog, and if you’d like, you can follow the links to the Google+ discussions I’ve referred to in this “pain” series of posts.  When I talk with people face to face – students, teachers, parents, fellow teachers, principals, school administrators, grandparents, folks in the community – it seems we all agree on the fact of the pain.  “School,” people say, “is broken” – and though I disagree with one possible interpretation of that statement, I know what they mean.  School does function as it was designed to function, so it’s not “broken” if “broken” means “not working as designed.”  But it’s “broken” in that it’s not meeting people’s needs.  It’s “broken” because it hurts, the way a broken chair hurts the body or stepping on broken glass hurts the foot.  It’s “broken” because it causes pain.

Apparently I was right about the pain – and lots of people are saying I was right about the causes of the pain, and about why the common solutions really aren’t solutions.

Am I also right about the solutions I’ve proposed for the textbook problem and the school problem? And if I am, how can we turn those right ideas into functioning organizations?

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