The infamous quote by George Santayana that, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,"points out one of our most difficult tasks as a society to overcome. Without tribal elders and with our society being so large, it is near impossible for wisdom to be passed through the ages. Generation to generation we tend to make the same mistakes over and over again. Yet each time we say that it will be different and is sure to work.
History provides us with a look into our past and education reform leaders and those concerned need a look into their past now more than ever. With the structure of education being carved about a century ago and remaining much the same since, we can look what was tried in the past to perhaps guide us and inform us of our next steps. As a nation we need to be more aware of how our system
Tinkering toward Utopia by David Tyack and Larry Cuban provides us with that detailed and unique look into our educational system's past. There are chapters explaining why our system changed dramatically over 100 years ago, where the practice of tracking began, Carnegie Units (the credits determining the worth of our classes), how technology was used in the classroom, and more.
I was captivated by every example and amazed at how similar the frustrations of the past mirror those of today. Any of the quotes taken from 25 years ago (A Nation at Risk), 50 years ago (Sputnik), 80-100 years ago (WWI-WWII) could just as easily been taken from last week's newspaper. Clearly we as a nation are making the same mistakes as our predecessors.
In my opinion, the primary issue stems from our desire to want students to fit into an Industrial Model. While on the surface most of us would disagree with this statement but, when we grade all students according to a rubric or standard with expectations that all will or should perform then we are quality assurance managers seeking a standard quality product. The assumption is that all students should be able to know everything (and the amount of information that constitutes "everything" has grown exponentially while the time in class has stayed stagnant).
The curriculum is standardized which prevents the student from showing their natural talents unless they align with those expected for all to learn and if you subscribe the Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences Theory many students are not reaching their full potential because they are not learning in a way conducive to them.
To hear me talk about this, it would sound like there is no hope and that our classrooms are cold uncaring assembly lines of learning. I know many of us seek to make the best of a situation, but perhaps if we are frustrated it may be the system and not our efforts that are at fault. We strive to determine the best practices for all but we know how different we each are. It is not easy to help all students individually reach their own potential but it would certainly be more enjoyable than trying to come up with ways to convince and motivate students to learn that which they feel is irrelevant to them.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in what we have tried in the past, why we did it, and even perhaps why it did or did not succeed.