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Saturday, May 25, 2013

Question the Question: avoiding premature closure on options.

There are disturbing signs that even many individuals and groups who should know better have learned little about the complexities of schools and educational improvements and are comfortable with the old bromides. Simple diagnoses and correspondingly simple solutions abound. --- John Goodlad, A Place Called School (1984)
What are educational problems? Why are there schooling controversies? What conflicts underlie them? How can we deal with them?

Stop. Don’t jump to formulating answers to these questions. Don’t confuse readiness or speed of response with knowledge or wisdom. Such shows of “decisiveness” or “leadership” often work to bias the direction of inquiry, restricting the range of perspectives brought up for consideration. In addition these "answers" may prematurely cement the discussion into forms which serve special interests and unfairly rule out diversity of opinion.

For example, consider this question from a Linkedin educational forum:
Is the American educational system wrecked or it has simply become inadequate since it can’t longer fulfill the essential requirements of the current and future generations? - Linkedin Educational Leadership Group, May 24, 2013.
This “question” is actually a bundle of answers in interrogatory form. It likely promotes agendas dear to the heart of its authors. It’s fairly obvious that
a. the “question” restricts discussion to two options: the American educational system is either “wrecked,” or it has become “inadequate.”

b. It finesses in a diagnosis for the proposed “inadequacy,” i. e. the system can’t fulfill “the essential requirements” …

c. “wrecked” and “inadequacy” are, themselves, evaluative terms requiring specification and justification.

d. It is far from clear what the following terms are being used to refer to: “the American educational system,” “the essential(?) requirements.” Which populations are being referred to by the terms “current and future generations?” (Don’t assume much consensus on these issues. American politics evidence otherwise.)
I responded to the “question” in the online forum with the following:

Would you mind listing "essential requirements of the current and future generations"? It might help draw this discussion down to practical considerations and to define the political environments in which any implementation efforts will need to seek support. (Don't presume any broad consensus on these issues.)

In addition, it might help to bring up some of the many, many other possibilities the forced two-pronged alternatives of your original question has overlooked.
For references and to examine these issues further, see Solving School Problems: a conflict resolution approach

--- EGR