The Harvard Business Review has an essay “What Was the Question?” in which Dan Ariely (Prof. of Behavioral Economics at Duke University) says, “The bottom line is that we need to spend more time helping people understand and deal with complexity and less time concocting dumbing-down mechanisms.”
But where do we (or Ariely) imagine our citizens might learn how to deal with “complexity”? Especially in arenas in which they have no direct experience or which require abstract reasoning/logic. In schools? It might work if complexity could be reduced to 5 multiple choice answers. Of course this is not the case–at least for most citizens. However, was it ever better?
As a whole, probably not. But, within classrooms there were always those “great” teachers who closed their doors and gave their students amazing experiences. I used to say, regarding my own kids, all I need is no more than one bad teacher from K-6 and at least one “great” teacher and the rest “good enough.” The great ones not only challenge kids with complexity, but do so while also providing a joy for learning. Our new test-driven system however is reducing the possibilities of students having a great teacher.
It’s also a narrow idea of what complexity might look like when we assume it can be measured by multiple choice questions, while ignoring precisely the qualities that make for those “great” teachers: broad and eclectic interests and passions of their own, the capacity to find almost anything interesting, an ability to keep many balls in the air at once, and to share their enthusiasms and generosity of spirit with others. The last suffered in some old traditional schools since many of those “great” teachers were also loners. Colleagues could be threats, so I can think of several who avoided teacher lounges and workshops whenever they could. But they did have a generous spirit toward their students–and could imagine possibilities in virtually all.
The current agenda doesn’t value any of these qualities. While encouraging if not mandating more “openness,” the new reforms simultaneously increase the risks for being noncompliant.
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