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Learning at its Best

Why Transformation May Hit A Snag: Observations From The Field

Whose transformation is the right one? As our nation and the rest of the world are in the midst of or stand on the brink of large-scale societal transformation, there are many opportunities to seize the moment and move towards transformation. In the same way their are opportunities for those with a particular agenda or ideology to take the energy of transformation and turn it to their own purposes. Transformers and reformers seem to be everywhere, from the Occupy Movements to the Co-opt Movements. Many of the organizations and individuals who are in the midst of these movements have done and continue to do vital, relevant transformative work.

There is cause for great concern as many organizations and individuals who are supposedly working for education transformation are falling into the trap of ego-centered competitiveness, and as a result, are ensuring that the status quo will continue, much to the delight of those who oppose any sort of change or transformation. Transformers who espouse one thing but are engaging in the same limited thinking — inconsiderate, arrogant, behavior  as they propose to rail against are giving energy to the entrenchment we find ourselves in.  Many of us have been witness to various indiscretions, such as the outright dismissiveness and the smugness with which transformers often treat other transformers, who are at least, to some degree working for transformation themselves.

It is often these folks who engage in the same behaviors that they chastise the “other side” for doing, who wonder aloud why the policy reforms they advocate are not being taken seriously by those who can change policy. Is it any wonder that those on the so-called other side do not take them seriously?  When all these transformers or reformers can do or will do is vehemently advocate their brand of transformation to the sole exclusion of decency, respect, humility and the ability to think through alternatives, we lose much and gain little. Many who call themselves transformers are unconsciously or consciously bringing their brand of transformation to places, communities and societies who may not need or want their brand of transformation.

In Education, many practitioners and theorists who ask others to be transformative, perhaps by including others, cooperating, being receptive to other ideas and lifting spirits, they readily shut down the ideas of others when they do not align with their own. These transformers insist that theirs is the only way to transformation.  They have often come up with a matrix that is designed to categorize whether something is transformative simply based on the virtue of an activity or what they deem is transformative.

The truth is that no one knows what is going to be transformative.

While there may be certain activities and or experiences that lend themselves better to a transformative experience, there is no definitive trigger for a transformative experience. Two of my most transformative moments came during a lecture; both of these absolutely changed my worldview, view of my myself, my place in the world and remain a big part of why I chose to dedicate my life to working in education. They didn’t happen out in the community, on a field trip or during a project.  They happened in a classroom where I sat at my desk in a row, along with 30 or so other students. This is not a personal endorsement of drill-and-kill methodology, rote memorization or reliance on lecture to produce transformative moments or experiences. Rather, it is a call to stop and take a look at what all the so-called transformation movements are creating.

It has become common for many organizations and individuals who say they are working for transformation to dismiss other notions, ideas and ways of thinking, simply by using their self-created checklist. The checklists have become an easy way to tick off this is good, this is no good, this is not good enough or I can out-intellectualize that idea. What is happening as a result is the transformation movements are losing credibility since they are simply engaging in the same behaviors that got us here in the first place.  While most individuals and organizations working towards a transformation in education are doing so from inclusive mindsets, philosophies and ideals. When push comes to shove, when things get difficult, they are resorting to competitiveness, arrogance, dismissiveness, outright disrespect and even malicious behavior. This is not only towards those who are lined up on the side of direct opposition, but also those who want transformation but don’t necessarily agree on how to get there.

Talking with folks in the field, many are concerned that the transformation movements are quickly losing the impact they once had. Their concern rests in the idea that all these movements are important and can pave the way to the societal transformation that many are craving but that they are also in danger of failing.  In education, the transformation movement may fall short if we continue to believe that there is only one way to do this, failing to appreciate and recognize what even the “juggernaut of public education” has accomplished.  There are many in our country who have learned to read and write as a result of being in public school.  Much like the current political discourse and climate, there is much to lose when we spend our time and energy finding fault, and tearing others down because we somehow think that our ideas are best for everyone. There is nothing wrong with intellectual discourse, dialogue and even debate.  There is something wrong with using the guise of these as a justification for randomly dismissing others and what they may contribute because we think we have it figured out.

Certainly, any organization or individual has a right to promote their ideology and a right to their opinion (I certainly have my share), but we have lost much already from our lack of decency, humility and competitiveness. I have heard transformers say things like, “This is too important to be nice,” or my favorite, “We might be viewed as jerks or a-holes, but this is how we have to get things done.”  There is no question that there are times when circumstances may dictate taking a less-then-agreeable approach for perhaps a moment or very short while; however, when adopted as a philosophy of “how we do things,” in the long term it becomes questionable. This is akin to listening to the Doctor or Health Guru who tells you that by taking the pill they developed and have been taking for years, it will make you look and feel like you are back in your 20s, but looks like he’s 80.

It is difficult for those who may not agree with the need for transformation to take the movement seriously when the transformers themselves are not practicing the fundamental ideas and underpinnings of those philosophies. An example of this comes from the holistic learning or holistic education philosophy. Many practitioners are not willing to practice things like collaboration, cooperation, kindness, open-mindedness and the critical, analytical type of thinking they profess education should facilitate. They want their students to practice listening to all sides, considering all ideas and changing their minds in the light of new information or evidence, but do not do so themselves. It is even more difficult for any true transformation to take place if it is approached as a confrontation or a way to point out how wrong others currently are or have been.

For any transformation to be sustainable, those who were affected by the transformation have to assent to the change. There are few examples of successful, sustainable transformation emerging from the subjugation of others, with outside ideals shouted more loudly than the existing ones. So what now? Maybe we take time to step back and assess where we’re going. Maybe we do not take the vulture posture, waiting to swoop down on each other when there is the slightest or not-so-slight perceived misstep or disagreement. Perhaps we continue to work, learn, love and live with humility.  Perhaps we can support each other, especially those working for transformation, even when that transformation is something different than what we want individually or as an organization. The transformation many of us are working for may be incremental and may just be something entirely different. It may be something that is not currently on the radar screen of any organization or individual.


Originally Post at Peter Berg’s Blog  Education Transformation



4 thoughts on “Why Transformation May Hit A Snag: Observations From The Field

  1. Great post. I think about this double standard all the time.

    Leo Tolstoy said: “Everyone wants to change the world, but no one wants to change themselves.”

    Posted by brazenteacher | May 5, 2012, 1:56 am
  2. Thank you for your comment. We are all human and will make many mistakes , while I appreciate the passion and dedication we all have towards creating a more equitable society. My hope is that we all approach this with humility . I have watched so many great movements and ideas never get off the ground because other in the field line up against it, even when there is much common ground. I am sure I have had my share of time on the pulpit. As long as we continue to reflect on what we do and how we do it, we will be OK.

    Posted by peterberg7468 | May 6, 2012, 5:21 pm


  1. Pingback: Why Transformation May Hit A Snag: Observations From The Field | :: The 4th Era :: | - May 5, 2012

  2. Pingback: Seeing the Ordinary as Extraordinary « Teacher as Transformer - May 6, 2012

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