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A Tool Box Full of Hammers

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.

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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.


Image: Hammer for what…? by Per Ola Wiberg (Powi) used under a Creative Commons License

2 Comments

  1. Debbie

    You provided me with a perfect introduction to this week’s staff technology exploration where we revisited using the SmartBoard. Twenty-one teachers quietly nodded and said, “He’s right.” We then discussed why we continue to be connected to our fathers’ schools. And we added that as long as our students write for an audience of one, we will continue to work harder than they do. We are having the conversation from within. I hope that’s progress.

  2. Robert Geczi

    For the longest time, I felt that the education system is very outdated. And for the most part, I think that the idea of “updating” the way students are being fed information is feared by many. People like comfort, and with the way information is currently passed onto students, it’s very comforting to the higherups that “this is the way we did it in school”. Businesses have motivation to use in the background, schools do not. That is the biggest difference between the two.

    Because the foundation of education is so broad, and divived into many different parts, no one really feels motivated or interested in sweeping changes. They just keep doing the way things have been done, fo the past x amount of years. If educators truly care about the education system, they would find new innovative ways to pass along information to their students, and people have to stop using “funding” as the excuse of not implementing it all.

    Again, it all boils down to motivation.

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