“Why are we keeping score? Cause if you’re not laughing, who is laughing now? I’ve been wondering if we stopped sinking, could we stand our ground?” from
The Outsiders by Needtobreath

Here is a radical proposal.

Think about the really critical, endemic, and persistent problems facing education. I’m specifically not talking about a person, some advocacy or constituency group, some localized and temporally limited issue, or a pet project. I’m talking about if we really got down to it, what we might agree are some deep and fundamental problems in education we need to confront. Let’s be parsimonious – try and narrow it down to three or four critical problems.

Got your list? Good.

Now imagine if as a country (or a state, or community for that matter), we put all our lists together and we could identify those problems that are really chronic and vexing – the ones keeping us from being great that we can’t seem to shake – the problems we are “stuck” on. This is harder than it might seem. Some people will need to let some things on their list go, or acknowledge that someone else raised a more important problem. People will need to give and take to get our problems down to a number we can really focus on to make some dramatic improvements.

Now, we have a second step. Just narrowing down the focus to the critical problems is plenty hard enough, but then you have to work together to get some agreement on the tactics we will take to solve these problems. Our focus in this second phase has to be on finding that Nash equilibrium, where no side gets all that it wants but each side achieves some degree of victory on their policy priorities. To really take on the big problems we face, we are going to need a long-term sustainable and concerted effort. The outcome of both identifying the problems, and identifying the tactics we will take together, need to stable for the long run.

As if just setting the agenda in the first step weren’t hard enough, narrowing focus and clearing the ambiguity for the tactics in the second step will be even more difficult. We will all have to mitigate and bring along the “radicals” and the “reactionaries” in our camps who have the goal of completely annihilating the other side and achieving some their personal Utopian vision of education policy where opposing views no longer exist. We cannot be seduced by these fantasies – these are illusions.

For lasting meaningful change to occur, we need to find a common voice. With this common voice, we can confront the problems we face and carry out the necessary solutions.

Jason Glass
Des Moines, IA