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Educator: Schools don’t need to be reformed at all

In the fourth essay in “Those who Dared,” John Goodlad writes about his career, which included stints teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Canada and at American universities, spent promoting the notion of schools as places where children can learn from each other in a nurturing, age-integrated setting. Goodlad’s description of what he thinks inspired educators ought to be doing to schools presents another option, or two, for GothamSchools’ ongoing name-those-reformers contest:

School reform is a nasty concept; reform is defined by my Webster’s dictionary as amendment of what is defective, vicious, corrupt, or depraved. What an insult to throw at the stewards of schooling! My conception of school renewal, which aims at improving our educational institutions, is vastly different. School reform will never give us the schools our democracy needs. Reform is a companion of the mechanistic, Industrial-Age, command-and-control model of organizational behavior that has been challenged again and again by thoughtful analysts for its dehumanization of the workplace and, indeed, work itself. Renewal is a radical departure from that model, fitting more systems, complexity, and perhaps chaos theories, which have been discouragingly slow to enter the schooling enterprise. Business leader Dee Hock has coined the word chaordic in describing the emerging age of chaos, complexity, and necessary order in which the second digital decade Bill Gates talks about will be only a part, admittedly an important one. … The common practice of trying to replicate some existing, perceived model, whether or not it is mandated, is doomed to fail — even if bits and pieces of it come into being. The major goal in renewal is to establish the right chaordic circumstances — primarily cultural.

The University of Washington, where Goodlad is a professor emeritus, recently announced that it would create the Goodlad Center for Educational Renewal.