Even Sisyphus knew starting over made no sense
Several years ago it was reported that Congressional colleagues of Newt Gingrich would regularly poke fun at Newt for a particular annoying habit.
Newt, a well-educated man, enjoyed reading. The annoying part of the habit, the part that earned his colleagues’ ridicule, was that every time he read a book the main idea or thesis being proposed by the author was recognized by Newt to be “the answer” to whatever problem the author was addressing. That is, it was the answer until Newt read the next book. Then “the answer” was in the latest book he read. Had I been one of Newt’s congressional colleagues I too would have been poking fun at Newt.
And yet I get so excited whenever I read another book that I believe contains part of the answer to our educational struggles. I am not quite like the parodied Newt who believed “now” the truth was revealed. Rather I think, and feel, that I have pieced together another part of the puzzle.
Nearly 40 years ago, when I read Positive Addiction and Choice Theory* by Dr. William Glasser, I thought this is the answer. If we only understood how and why students made choices we could more positively impact students.
A few years later Glasser published the Control Theory Manager which included and synthesized insights of Edward Deming. This book helped us to understand how and why the adults made the choices they made while working within the system of the school.
Then over the years we began to hear from educators who were incorporating these ideas into practices. We read about Johnson City Central School District and the Outcomes-Driven Developmental Model. We read about Mastery Learning. We read about Cooperative Learning. We read about Professional Learning Communities. Every new thing we read has synthesized part of the prior contributions from previous authors and practitioners and pushed another iteration.
The mistake we continue to make in educational leadership is the exact same mistake we make regarding curriculum and instruction. We behave like Sisyphus. We approach the summit only to retreat to the bottom of the hill to begin anew as ignorant as when we started. Instead, we should learn from all the good that has come before.
We should build a platform near the summit. And on that platform would be a repository of everything we already know. As we strive to improve how we educate children we would no longer begin anew as though we have learned nothing. But rather we would continue the task of improving education by continuing to synthesize and adjust what we already know versus starting over.
“What’s that, Newt? You just finished a great new book? You know how to improve our schools? ”
*Originally published as Control Theory