Monday, June 01, 2009

Choice and Schools

Will Richardson just tweeted that he thinks the impediment to real change in schools is the lack of choice. I disagree.

Coincidentally, Will also tweeted today about Michael Moore's post, Goodbye GM, which I wrote about in the previous post. I think the example of GM provides an excellent reason why change cannot always be driven by "choice." We have plenty of choices for cars. Within GM, I could at one time choose between Chevrolet, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Saturn. And then there were the Fords, the Chryslers, the Dodges, and all the Japanese, Swedish, German, and Korean models out there.

And yet the auto companies would simply refuse to get with the times and create better cars that relied less on oil and more on alternative energy sources. These changes may finally come with the intervention of the Obama administration, or so Moore and I hope.

Schools do need to change, but there are very powerful forces out there working against it. Primary among these is the simple fact that people resist change. We know what works, and we hate to take risks on something that *might* work better. I'm not sure "choice" can make us willing to take risks.

I work in a great department with great people. I'm probably the only person in my department who knows or cares what Twitter is. About once a week I get a powerful urge to run into my boss's office, push her away from the computer, and set up some sort of useful Web 2.0 application to make her life easier. But I resist the urge, because I know she doesn't want it. No one in my department does.

Choice can be overwhelming. If we feel we lack information about our choices, we become paralyzed. We don't want to invest a lot of money in something when we don't know if it will work. Cars are expensive; few want to buy a hybrid or electric car without knowing for sure that it is well-tested. The same goes for education. It's expensive to educate our children.

The most powerful force working against change is fear. We fear taking risks when we don't have safety nets. And all our safety nets have been taken away over the past 20-30 years. That's why we seem stuck here in this period of history, sensing what can be but afraid to take the leap. Failure has too high of a cost.

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