Thursday, February 28, 2008

Convincing Schools to Change

I was forwarded an interesting piece that Robert Weisbuch, the new president of my alma mater, wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education the other day. He argues that universities, rather than looking down on, or simply ignoring, K-12 schools, should form a partnership that he calls the "third culture" with primary and secondary schools across the country.

If that third culture is to develop, college faculty members might stop coming on to their school counterparts like gods delivering grace to undeserving sinners. We need to acknowledge that a strong teacher in the schools knows a great deal more about pedagogy than we do. Even beyond the obvious fact that we share the same kids at different stages and the more emotionally compelling fact that professors have kids, too, it is well past time to shed our pretensions, share our status as intellectual leaders, and acknowledge both what school teachers bring to the party and the mutual benefit that accrues from a partnership between equals.

I'm not sure how much he's referencing higher education in general and how much he's directing his plea at education researchers, but I find his comments particularly relevant for researchers. It seems that every article I've read about effecting change in the way that schools are run (particularly regarding the way that teachers teach) basically asks one question: we know how to run schools/classrooms, how can we convince administrators/teachers to things the way we tell them to?

The flaw that I see in this question is that it's exceedingly arrogant, which is probably a large part of the reason that the question never seems to be answered. Yes, research is not effectively utilized in schools, but the fact is that people who work in schools know a great deal more about some things than researchers could ever hope to. The fact that (most) researchers are experts on something does not give them the right to treat teachers and other education officials as inferior beings. Perhaps the way to effect change in schools is to work with people instead of talking at them.

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