I’m feeling the morning-after shame of attempted profundity via wordle. When I was young my mother told me, “Riley, when you can’t quite think of the right way to say something, remember: anything’s better than wordle.”
Or something like that. Maybe the exact details are eluding me. For whatever reason, I now believe that inaccurately or imprecisely describing something is ok. I stopped looking for the exact right way to do something, because finding the best solution was costing me the passion of the moment. Now you get the unthrottled passion of my moment.
Yes, sometimes, in wordle form. I’m not saying there aren’t costs both ways.
So I’m not mad when people talk about education being broken, or washington being broken, or [your favorite societal system] being broken. Fixing things as a community is a great way to strengthen our community and come together.
Attention, world, though: “Broken” is the wrong word to use. It stirs people up. It’s violent and gory. It’s one step away from saying “Education is dead.” And:
1: Education is not broken
There are low literacy rates and low test scores and people who are homeless. There’s violence and cruelty. There are kids who sit bored in classrooms all day and who lose whatever innate love of learning they might have had because their teachers force them to add fractions and feel stupid when they try to figure out why they can’t do it.
In the face of all that I dare say that education is not broken because kids are learning and most people are nice. I live in Iowa, in a nice house surrounded by nice people who are almost exactly like me, so, you know, narrow perspective etc etc. Outside the United States, I hear stories of schools that sound like they’re doing a good job. I hear success stories, and I read the blogs of like 50 teachers inside this country that are doing a great job. I love, by the way, that so many of our own blogs use positive suggestions instead of destructive terms.
If you’re into violent imagery you might say, “Well Riley, a broken lawn mower will still cut some blades of grass perfectly,” and then I’ll say, “A broken lawnmower doesn’t start. Your lawn mower just needs some oil and its blades sharpened and, maybe, a realignment or height adjustment.”
I just mowed the lawn. Find another metaphor. But at the worst, I’ll give you “Education needs a shift in focus” or “Education needs more money” or “Education could improve under a different style of management.” Really I think it’s something more like “Education is hard, and thank goodness we have so many brilliant people working really hard to make sure our children have a good future to look forward to.”
2: Calling something broken 100 times makes everyone think it’s broken
What would you say about a teacher who kept telling her students that they were broken? I actually know this teacher. Her grades go “A,” “B,” “C,” and “Broken.” Then she hires lobbyists to picket those students’ front lawns until they stop leaving themselves behind.
We don’t do that, though, because we understand that feedback isn’t useful when it’s all negative. In fact, I think the most effective feedback is almost all positive. We would never call a student broken, or even call his math skills broken. Even when we’re talking to a fellow teacher, we say things like, “He just hasn’t gotten it” or when we’re really pessimistic “He just can’t do it.”
If we say that the educational system is broken, we’ve given up hope of fixing it. We’re saying we need a new one. But we don’t need to replace the six million teachers that are dedicating their lives to improve others’. We don’t need to tear down all the buildings, and throwaway all the text books, and replace every pencil with an iPad.
The worst thing of all, of course, is the power that just saying “broken” so many times has over your message.
Look what it did to my wordle!