A recent opinion piece in the Washington Post asks in the headline “Can we fix the schools?”. Followed by the parenthetical answer “Maybe not”.
The writer, whose focus for the paper is economics, is trying to make the case, based on a “major new study”, that the federal government should let “states and localities see whether they can make schools work better”.
Fair enough. I suppose he may have a point. However, it’s his terminology, also used by many politicians and other education experts, that bothers me.
That idea of “fixing” schools.
“Fix” implies that we only need to make some adjustments to the system to get everything “working better”. Like a car that needs a tune up or new muffler. Or replacing the cracked screen on your smartphone.
Nobody takes their car into the shop for repair and questions the fundamental concept of the automobile. When getting a leak fixed, none of us ask the plumber to re-imagine the idea of indoor plumbing.
But maybe that’s exactly what we should be doing with the idea of school. Rather than trying to “fix” the system by creating new testing programs or abdicating the responsibility of public education to private companies.
The idea of “fixing” schools assumes that the basic structure created a century (or more) ago is still sound and remains valid for a very uncertain future.
It assumes that grouping kids by chronological age, presenting them with a stream of data divided into discrete topics, and using mass assessment tools to determine their understanding is still the best system for learning. (If it ever was.)
What if there is no “fix” for schools and we need to start over?
I shot the image above, of a man working under the hood of his classic Chevy, on the streets of Havana. From what we were told, the owners of those cars need to be very creative to keep them running.