Thursday, September 18, 2008

In education, if shift happens, it's a rare event

I almost wish the phrase "paradigm shift" hadn't come into use.
How often can a human being change, shift, move away from, her/his view of the world? And then if it does happen,is it something that can be replicated in a process?
OK, my dears, line up for the peak experience of your life: guaranteed to change how you explain and organize what you call 'reality'. And if you believe me, I've also got a bridge I want to sell you, it's one of several between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo...

And yet, even if we don't use the phrase cavalierly or simplistically, those of us who want schools to change (meaning a fundamental transformation)are really asking for the principals,teachers and all the other adults on the campus to have a peak be knocked off the horse. It's comparable to Paolo Freire asking Brazilian language instructors to shift to the 'dialogical' when he contrasted teaching that oppressed to that which liberated.

Picture a typical inner-city or barrio school and imagine the setting, the context and the environment. Principals and teachers view the students as unteachable; hopeless...academically dumb. The students collude with the deficit point of view and consider themselves bad students and school to be boring. So as change agent try getting into their heads and re-organize the synapses; or become a miraculous opthomologist and remove the thick lens implanted in their eyes.

Draconian or miraculous measures are called for.

Hope springs occasional (not eternal)when it seems that planned events result in some major change. When the IAF group in San Antonio called C.O.P.S. , perhaps the nation’s most powerful community organization, organized the common folk in the barrios to demand, and get, what was coming to them, some of us thought that we were in a new age of democratic participation and influence by the majority of the poor and working class citizens. But after a while the power returned to the few,as if it had ever really left, and the populist energy was dissipated.
The Greeks really knew something about human penchant for changing the almost impossible ...pushing the boulder of our democratic dreams up the mountain...having it roll down on our dizzy heads...and maybe one dreamer gets a MacArthur genius grant...and a Mandela survives prison and then enjoys a little bit of hard-earned privilege.

So, attempting to transform our schools, advocating for the equity and excellence that all children merit and deserve is a Sisyphean task. Those of us committed to the cause will continue to do it with great hope and little evidence. Leaps of faith with slim proof of impact. I have colleagues that have theories of organizational change that change when you quote or remind them of their previously stated theory. It's almost as if they don't want to be pinned down...and with good reason. Any construct presented can be proven untrue in the next iteration. Not necessarily because the idea presented for school change was wrong, but perhaps because progressives are wedded to playing devil's advocate and are skeptics at heart.

It's very hard to change the people in the schools. Yet, sometimes, we do get the boulder to the top of the mountain. A principal who cares and is adept at managing a campus; teachers that are effective in teaching all children; a campus that is family friendly; and students who are learning and enjoying school. Yet looking down from the promontory of the excellent school, we see acres of boulders and endless vistas of mountains to attack.
So, shift happens in schools, but not very often. Some of us just aren't going to give up on the dream.

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