How much of what we do as educators is done because that’s the way it’s always been done? I imagine that whenever these things, that we do out of a respect for history, were originally executed, there was probably a reason for it. My question is with our society and all of the systems within it changing so rapidly over the past few decades, are those original reasons for doing things a certain way still valid? How would we know unless we re-examined the things that we do in education and see if they stand up in today’s technology-driven culture?
I often use my dentist as an example of obsolete practices in a modern setting. It has nothing to do with teeth, but rather information forms. You may have had the same experience with any medical or dental office. Every year at best patients are required to fill out a form to update all of the doctor’s patient information. The office person hands out blank forms to fill out all of the information that already lies within the computer system. When I asked why do I need to fill out all the information that you already have, I was told that this is the way we have always done it.
Of course the method, obvious to me, would be to print out the needed information that the computer already had, so that I could check if it needed any corrections. That is one of the reasons why we have computers, to do those repetitive tasks that waste our time. Apparently, it never occurred to the dentist or the staff to use the technology at hand to make a dull, time-consuming task for a patient a more productive and less tedious experience. Why? Because that’s the way we have always done it. That leads me to ask, how many policies or practices do we have in our schools that only exist, because that’s the way it has always been done.
In many instances in education there is also a research component that affects everything that we do. At least we hear that as educators all of the time. Does the research support this? That question may not apply to some things however. Research tells us that the teenage brain does not function well in the morning hours. Few schools have changed their AM openings to accommodate the research. The overall positive effects of homework continues to be questioned by research, yet there are still schools mandating homework be given at alarming rates. Research tells us that physical activity enhances cognitive thinking and promotes more lasting learning, yet, as a money-saving effort, playtime, recess time and even Physical education are often the first programs that fall victim to budget cuts. The reason: That’s the way we have always done it.
How many kids have come to hate Fridays because many of their teachers see that as testing day? It is not uncommon for a kid to have three major exams fall on a single day. Is that a valid assessment of any learning in each of those classes? That is a direct result of educators testing on Friday, because that’s the way it has always been done. I could point out that direct instruction and lecture are no longer valued as the most effective methods of teaching, yet they are still the focal point in methodology of too many teachers. Why? Because that’s the way it has always been done.
No, this doesn’t happen in every school with every educator, but it happens more often than it should. We need to have a better understanding of why we do things in education. We can no longer take for granted that just because something has always been done a certain way, that it is good for kids. It is time to apply what we know to what we do. Isn’t that what education is about? It may be time to examine policies and practices to see if they still fit in an ever-changing modern world. The way we do things should always be affected by why we do things. If research, or common sense changes the why, we need to adjust the way. That is progress. If we skip progress, change will come through reform. Reform is never an easy alternative.
There are so many things to look at in education that it is just easy to continue doing things the way they have always been done in the past. We need to look at and consider just where that mindset has brought us. We need to make time to re-examine what we do and why we do it on all levels of education. If administrators don’t want to take it on, than teachers should. As educated people we have the research and the know how to apply methods to maximize learning for students. We need to prioritize that as a goal for education. That is not something that has always been done that way.