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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Something Old, Something New

As soon as one school is completed, preparations for another begin. One of the primary responsibilities in forging plans for the upcoming school term involves hiring staff members.

I have been performing this task for many years now. It's a challenge I enjoy. Nurturing growth in staff members is rewarding. I especially like observing the energy and enthusiasm that accompanies the resume each candidate brings to the interview.

However, the longer I remain in education, the more echoes of the past emerge. With a career than spans four decades, I have experienced a robust array of programs and practices pushed by consultants (all too often former educators imbued with the sales pitch of a snake oil salesman seeking to bilk public funds from anxious consumers in search of a quick remedy...) at conferences. During the course of a lengthy career, one hears programs explained in terms that sound vaguely familiar. Peering beneath the shade, light is cast on elements or concepts that are true, but couched in updated buzz-words and enhance with the technology of the time - all, to appear different enough to distinguish the program from earlier versions. Think about paraphrasing a quote, or citing a reference with a footnote in tiny font at the end of the book/article. As kids say, "the same, but different."

Somehow, amid all of the hype and noise, arise research based proposals that have survived critical analysis and been identified as viable solutions to stated needs. Even these programs are subject to subtle, nuanced tweaks that accumulatively have the effect to cloak the original and birth a new product.

Such was the case when I, many years ago as a new teacher, excitedly explained to my mother-in-law (a former teacher at a one room school house in Kansas, and later a principal of a small rural school there) about the new concept entitled "cooperative learning." I recounted the wisdom and recommendations presented by the authors (themselves products of a one room school house) and went on and on about the virtues of the philosophy and practice. My audience of one was patient, gracious, and accommodating.

Finally, after exhausting my knowledge and effort, my mother-in-law politely offered that it, "sounds a lot like what I learned years ago when studying the work of John Dewey." That took a little wind out of my sails, though she clearly did not intended to dismiss or discount my interest in cooperative learning. Nor did she imply that the Johnson brothers who formed the basis for cooperative learning were copying the work of Dewey, but rather building on his efforts and refining/updating the practice.

Nonetheless, it was an example of what continues to occur in the field of education, old practices and programs wearing new, more stylish clothes to impress shoppers.

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