The REAL Handcuffs Holding Us Back

In a recent bit over on his blog, my buddy Tony Baldasaro argued that the decisions schools make are often designed to support the system rather than to support students or to advance learning.

He writes:

“I’m trying hard to not be so cynical about the institutionalization of our public schools and I remind myself all the time of the amazing people that my kids get to learn from everyday, but when I get notifications of things such as that which I wrote above, I am reminded of how powerful the institutional machine really is.”

In a lot of ways, Tony’s right about the damage that “the institution” has done to education: The incredibly sad reality is that the principals and teachers working inside of our schools rarely have enough influence over “the system” to intentionally control much of anything that happens inside of our buildings anymore.

(click to enlarge, download and find original image credit here)







Instead, we spend the vast majority of our professional time and energy doing little more than responding to the #edpolicy decisions that govern our work. 

Everything from the time that our students spend in class, to the content that must be covered in our curricula, to the way that we can spend our budgets is often explicitly defined by legislators.

To make matters worse, experimentation and innovation is literally crushed in high-stakes environments that tie our evaluations — and our public reputations — to the “results” we produce on low-level multiple choice exams that do little to encourage the kind of progressive thinking and instruction that REALLY matters in our classrooms.

Don’t get me wrong: Schools need to change.  And yes, I believe that teachers and principals are the right people to lead that change.

But the simple truth is that practitioners are all-too-often handcuffed by the #edpolicy choices made by legislators working a thousand miles from the classroom.

Until that reality changes, I’m hesitant to lay the blame for a stagnant system at the feet of principals and teachers.

Any of this make sense?


Related Radical Reads:

Walking the Moral Tightrope

Are #edpolicies Turning Schools into Brainpower Wastelands?

Value-Added Teacher Evaluation Fails Kids and Communities

Declaring War on Teachers


Original Image Credit: Hands in Handcuffs by VectorPortal

Permission for use granted via email on April 2, 2013

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  • SusanGraham

    Reforming schools a classroom at a time

    Too often public school teachers and principals who have a proven track record of success are given little freedom to exercise their expertise and judgement to adapt or modify instruction. So it seems ironic that charter schools, which many tout as the answer to school reform, are often founded on untested expermiental practices and given absolution from the organizational mandates that confine traditional public schools. School reform that supports innovations implemented by experienced teachers in exisiting schools could provide a cost effective, low risk and easily monitored opportunity to research which practices might most benefit student learning.

  • Brad Ovenell-Carter

    The REAL Handcuffs

    Education is an institution. It’s not necessarily inherently bad, but it is an institution, one set up to bring broad literacy to millions–and in that it has been wildly successful (see Education Ain’t Broke, So Don’t Fix It.) The point is, yes, institutions can become their own reasons for existing. But even when they work well, they can be limiting. I can highly recommend reading David Byrne’s, How Music Works. He argues that creativity is dependent on context: “we unconsciously and instinctively make work to fit pre-existing formats.” If this is true, and  my experience tells me it is, then we can only expect a certain kind of creativity (and even genius) inside our schools.