Sunday, September 19, 2010

If It Works: Break It

Watching Seth Godin's talk "This Is Broken" on TED, I can't help but think about public education in the year 2010, the year of the broken bubble test, broken budgets, and broken class size. Much in education needs fixing.

Godin says he came up with the idea for "This Is Broken" at a cab stand with a long line despite a huge number of cabs awaiting fares. I'm particularly fond of Godin's criteria for judging whether or not something is broken: "If I think it's broken, it's broken." To wit, Godin identifies broken types:

7 Kinds of Broken
Not my job
Selfish jerks
The world changed
I didn't know
I'm not a fish
Broken on purpose

My favorite broken things include the dog prescription warning against operating a motorized vehicle and alcohol consumption (Not My Job) and the Jimmy Choo shoes that don't function well as shoes because they are designed for a different purpose (Broken On Purpose).

Two kinds of broken seem particularly relevant to teachers: The world changed and I'm not a fish. The social efficiency model of education designed for the Industrial era no longer works for 21st Century students, yet the architects of NCLB and the business interests that make money hocking standardized tests and curriculum have wrested control of public education from educators. Consequently, what little money remains in the public coffers will first pay for the tests and programs before funding the real classroom needs.

To illustrate the "I'm not a fish" type of broken as it pertains to education, I think about my district's new grade book program. We were told it's easy to use, but it certainly isn't easy to see. I need a magnifying glass to supplement my glasses, and we have been assured that there is no way to increase the font size. Last year the district moved from semesters to trimesters, just as our state neighbor to the south and other districts around the country have abandoned the system. I can live with the broken trimester system but prefer semesters, which give teachers more opportunity to get to know students and which provide a more cohesive curriculum by avoiding a twelve-week time lapse from one tri to the next, as happens for many students. If summer diminishes student skills; one can logically conclude that a three month lapse does the same.

Some times I think we operate based on the "If it works, break it" paradigm just to give some folks something to do. Ironically, the ability to embed the video here on Blogger is broken, so you'll need to use the link. As Godin notes, those who create something should first use it because while they might think it works fine, we all have the right to say, "If I think it's broken, it's broken."


  1. Hey, I really enjoyed your thoughtful post on my blog in the EC Ning -- it is open to everyone, not just my students! I completely agree about both not going local and the value of teacher action research. I know Pocatello pretty well -- I am from Portland. I look forward to more conversation and meeting one day. Any chance you will be in... Orlando?

  2. I agree that there are some very broken things in education. My problem with the broken-ness is that the only way to fix some of the problems is Extreme Home Makeover-style: start from scratch or gut the place. Neither is feasible. What are your thoughts?

    PS: Because this had to do with "broken" and because you would like it. Hint: asystole means cardiac arrest, or lack of heartbeat.

  3. Alesha,It does seem as though we treat symptoms rather than causes in education. The problem, I think, is often a question of agenda. Those controlling education these days have an agenda that doesn't serve students well. Even if "gut the place," how do we keep those entities from controlling the agenda?

  4. Some times I think we operate based on the "If it works, break it" paradigm just to give some folks something to do.

    I agree. The 'think tankers' need to eat. Progressive change, in my view, is most effective when at least some of the 'think tankers' are teachers (users of the innovations) by day and tankers by night.