Seth Godin, whose blog is well worth a daily read, wonders about the old cliche which says that if your only tool is a hammer then all problems look like nails.
The practical effect of this thinking is that “when the market changes, you may be seeing all the new opportunities and problems the wrong way because of the solutions you’re used to”.
His theme is business, of course, and specifically with how they’re using social media, but Seth’s basic concept still applies to the institution of American education.
For starters, we don’t seem to understand that the “market” has changed (drastically!), so we continue to pull hammers out of the tool box.
Although we talk a lot about “differentiated instruction” and “individualized learning”, the details and solutions tend to look like the same classroom hammers we’ve always used.
When it comes to the major education reform proposals of the past fifty years, we’ve pretty recycled the same old hammers by painting different politically motivated labels on them (think: Sputnik, Nation at Risk, NCLB).
Then there’s the little corner of the system with which I’m most familiar, instructional technology.
Millions of classroom computers, most connected to world-wide networks, with a variety of amazing communications tools should have brought about major alterations to our process of teaching and learning.
If we didn’t just use them as digital versions of the same analog tools we’ve always used.
We want laptops to be electronic textbooks or workbooks.
Expensive interactive whiteboards are too often used for one-way transmission of knowledge, in very much the same way as the traditional analog chalk version.
Students write research papers and create presentations using sophisticated software for an audience of one.
And here in the overly-large school district we’re taking binders full of central office-blessed curriculum materials and test questions, putting it all in a big database, and declaring this to be a paradigm shift.
As Godin has pointed out many times in his writing, in times of crisis, economic and other, smart companies inspect every aspect of their business processes and find new opportunities to grow hidden in the bad news.
Instead of stocking up on new types of hammers as we in education seem to be doing.