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The perfect marriage/school

via Lost In Recursion

I’ve been married a little over two years, so surely there are more experienced spouses in the world, but as I made the bed this morning, I had a nice little thought.  My marriage works, but probably not for everyone.  Shows you how nuts I am, but this somehow got me thinking about school, of course.

Here’s what marriage has taught me about teaching.

* * *

I was last out of bed, so it was my job to make it.  That’s our deal – one of many that address small, but rather vital little things.  We also have agreements about stuff like dishes, walking the dog, money, watching TV, and on and on – everything from how we spend our time to how we communicate.

Our relationship is central to my life.  It’s the primary structure in which I thrive and grow and learn, so I’m extremely thankful that we’ve settled into patterns that keep it going.  We certainly don’t have “the perfect marriage,” but these little deals and strategies work for us.  We’re constantly engaged in a process of rethinking ways to make life better.  If we stopped that process, I’m sure the marriage would be over.

And yet, I have no expectation at all that anyone else’s marriage needs to run like ours.  What we have is highly idiosyncratic and certainly our own.  If there is such a thing as “the perfect marriage,” I don’t think it’s one-size-fits-all.

* * *

I feel the same way about school.  What works for me and my students may not work for you and yours.  What motivates this student often leaves that one flat, so I run into real trouble when I walk around the room and give the same explanation over and over (pseudo-teaching for sure).

And yet, the national education debate seems to be aiming straight at one-size-fits-all.  Not a week goes by without someone pointing to Singapore or Finland, trying to figure out what they know that we don’t.  “If only we did it like that,” we seem to think.  In professional development teachers are pushed to establish “best practices,” and  Bill Gates sees “the best lectures” online as a breakthrough, as though great teaching were simply a matter of doing it right.

I checked out MSNBC’s two-hour special, making the grade just long enough for, “we’re here to figure out what works, 100% of the time.”  I seriously doubt there’s anything at all that works all the time, for every student, and every teacher, in every community, let alone a scalable structure that will fix our system.  It’s futile searches like this that keep ed-reform stuck in endless, pointless debate.

* * *

There is no systematic and standardized solution to education for the same reason my wife and I can never stop adjusting our life patterns.  The heart of the matter is growth, development, and sustenance, i.e. change.  Nothing static can ever address this fully.

Though students and teachers can’t often choose each other in quite the same way, the central questions are equivalent; how can we make this better for both of us?  Teachers and students need the freedom to respond in ways that are inventive and unique to the two of them.

Day one this year I might say something like, “I’m here to figure out what works for me and each of you, more of the time.”

Read more from Lost In Recursion

About Paul Salomon

Life is not about discovering yourself. It's about creating yourself.


10 thoughts on “The perfect marriage/school

  1. Yes! You’ve put into words what I was having a hard time articulating. I want nuance. I want paradox. I want an understanding that what works is contextual. I feel like the proponents of various systems have been screaming, blocking people from groups and getting all tribalistic when what works is always bound by time and space and place.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | August 31, 2011, 11:51 pm
  2. Thanks Paul and Thank John. Well said. I think networks of learning is one way… and nomad tribes…some who stay in one place for longer than others…but some who move around freely…some who wear funny hats… others no hats at all… others who like to watch Hoda and Kate Lee in the morning while drinking coffee and others that think tv is evil… etc etc….

    but I do think we should keep pushing the boundaries of what schools or tribes or networks of learning look like… and keep asking the question is this the best we can do for each other… A lot of schools do but even more don’t.


    Posted by dloitz | September 1, 2011, 3:40 am
  3. Paul, I’m totally with you, and my husband made the bed this morning.

    So here’s the complicated question to me, the one that I’m in in big and small ways in all my work right now. What would a “system,” a system of networks, a portfolio of learning communities (some maybe even schools), look like that served EVERY KID WELL? And did not simply privilege the already privileged?

    Many families who have social capital and choice will, or are, moving away from the dysfunctional, toxic, “one-best” system. It doesn’t work and doesn’t produce good results. The last 10 years of NCLB have made the dysfunctions much worse, and have eroded trust in the public system. (In an era when government is under attack anyway.)

    So we need to transform the system to provide credible options, along the “negotiated by individuals” lines you draw. But how do we make sure those powerful new options are available to ALL, not just those with much?

    So would local control of your school achieve this, if you and your sister and brother teachers had total freedom to design the community school system as you wished and thought best?

    Want to know what you think,


    Posted by Kirsten | September 1, 2011, 10:59 am
    • Great questions, Kristen, and of course I’m thinking of the very same. You’re absolutely right that many (with means) are already leaving not only the public system, but the traditional methods of standardized education. I hope this is the future of schooling, but I wonder if this kind of paradigmatic change can come from within this system or from without. Let me share some thoughts on a “system” for individualized schooling.

      I have been paying a lot of attention to Puget Sound Community School in Seattle, and it sound like they have some really good things in place. Let me say this, I think there is hope for schools as an establishment. Just to throw out an idea, how about this: (I totally don’t have the answers)

      A well integrated system of public schools, parks, and libraries. I like the idea that every school be a communal piece of its community, largely open to the responsible public. (In fact, I think you can reduce public funding this way, but that’s a side issue) Remove grades, and develop general guidelines for advisors, goal-setting, and portfolio, and anecdotal reporting. I think these schools need to remain pretty small, which is a striking difference from our current system. A crucial idea is that the people you grow and learn with really get to know you. It’s probably not enough to be handed off from year to year, teacher to teacher, grade to grade. We need a sense of history that transcends even the best anecdotal reports.

      The tricky question, and the one you’re really asking, is how does a low-income community school succeed in ways that affluent community schools might. The point, I think, is this. Schools (even as they stand now) are supposed to be a place where community members (teachers/admin) lift up other members of the community (students). So the question becomes, how would these struggling communities raise their children if they had control over it? I have no answer to that.

      Just some ideas. Not a clear picture, and definitely not a path from where we are.

      Posted by Paul Salomon | September 1, 2011, 3:32 pm
  4. Kirsten —

    There are a lot of good answers to what might work in a particular situation. The problem is letting go of the idea that it must be proven that a good answer is the perfect answer for everyone in all situations.

    When Paul walks into his classroom, I hope it will be with respect toward his students and their particular situation. The sad fact that he will have to prove that they learned certain items does not recognize everything else they learned. Or could have learned under a non-standardized approach to schools. And takes away from time and effort better spent on learning than testing.

    Of course, helping good teachers to do better, providing good learning environments for more children, working with a student’s situation and strengths instead of against both — these ideas require some things we don’t, as a nation, have — respect for children, willingness to embrace uncertainty about the future, community support for learning as an ongoing activity, funding for all of the above, etc.


    Posted by Nance Confer | September 1, 2011, 12:03 pm
    • I think those are some great points, Nance. As a nation, I suspect, we do not respect our children in the ways they need it. That is definitely a big part of what I try to do as their teacher.

      Interestingly, it’s already the democratic process (in theory at least) that governs our schools. OUR legislators write these laws. OUR city and state leaders handle funding. OUR school board, etc. I was going to say, how would we raise our children if it was up to us. Then I realized it already is!!! The fact that it goes on like this is the madness of democracy.

      Posted by Paul Salomon | September 1, 2011, 3:46 pm
  5. Mr. Paul,
    I am an elementary education major in Dr. Stange’s edm 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I think you are so right when you said that teaching students is much like a marriage. For better or for worse you are their teacher and they are your students at least for a year. Each and every classroom is different and we as teachers will have to learn and adapt to what that group of children needs. Much like a marriage both parties have to work together to get anything accomplished. Instead of educators trying to find the next best thing to have a successful classroom “100% of the time”, we need to focus on the here and now needs of the students. I really enjoyed reading your blog and look forward to reading more. I too have been married for two and a half years and would really LOVE to know what to say to get my husband to make the bed!
    Thank you,
    Jessica Walker

    Posted by Jessica Walker | September 1, 2011, 4:59 pm
    • Hahaha. Thanks for your comment, Jessica! Our deal is just last one out of the bed makes it. (It also helps you get up early.) You’re right on with “for better or for worse” part. Very apt. Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll check out some more posts over at

      Posted by Paul Salomon | September 1, 2011, 5:57 pm


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