Steady As She Goes: Incremental Change = Durability

Steady As She Goes: Incremental Change = Durability


Although its capacities to stand still and resist change are considerable, education’s most effective strategy for remaining durable is its capacity for incremental change.

Education has shown the capacity to change a lot, but this change has been evolutionary and gradual. The university in modern society has successfully evolved to serve society’s needs during periods of tremendous social change while maintaining key structural elements of the historical models which have shaped it. Over the past century, American education has transformed from an institution which served a relatively small proportion of the population to one which serves everyone for at least part of their lives. In the process, education as an institution has responded to a variety of challenges it has been asked to meet. On the primary/secondary school level, as the book Disrupting Class pointed out (pp. 52-64), this has included inculcating democratic values, expanding primary/secondary education to everyone via compulsory education and the comprehensive high school, helping keep America competitive, and helping to eliminate poverty. Higher education has also been responded to the challenges of economic competitiveness and expanding access. Most of this has happened relatively gradually, but the cumulative effects are real.

There have been times when higher education has been asked to change rapidly, such as the post-WWII implementation of the GI Bill. For the most part, however, incremental change has been the order of the day.

The problem is that incremental change is no longer seen as enough. There is a long-standing expectations gap between the expected and the actual rate of change. This is why K-12 education is so often described as "failing" when in reality it is falling short of accelerated expectations. It is also happening because of some current, real, important threats to education's durability. More on that in the next post...

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