Steady As She Goes: Stasis - Why Education Is So Good at Standing Still

Steady As She Goes: Stasis - Why Education Is So Good at Standing Still


Stasis is perhaps the best way to understand the Steady as She Goes scenario.

Stasis is more than simple resistance. If resistance means trying to block something from happening, stasis is more like the many forces for changing education canceling each other out for the most part. Things stay the way they are because the sum total of the vectors adds up to little. As one educator noted dryly some 20 years ago (I believe it was Howard Gardner, but I can't find the source), everyone agrees that education has its problems, but no one can agree on the solutions. Everyone wants something different; as a result, change is hard to come by.

But the more powerful reason for stasis is not that everyone wants something different. Who are the advocates for keeping things the way they are? As with advocacy of any position, the advocates are those people who have an important stake in keeping things the way they are, which in this case is -- just about everybody, including you and me. As cartoonist Walt Kelly’s iconic figure Pogo noted many decades ago, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

This is not what the advocates of change would have you believe, or want to believe. Surely the problem is with the entrenched elements of the system -- teachers, administrators, accrediting agencies, unions, the National Education Association, and all the other elements with a stake in the status quo. If only we could eliminate or bypass or co-opt or otherwise break their stranglehold, then change would occur. Or so the fantasy goes. And it is true that all of these elements contribute to continued stasis. But what would actually happen if the power of these elements were to disappear is that the fighting would just be beginning -- the Free Market Rules camp vs. the Free Learning Rules camp vs. the Direct Education camp vs. the religious fundamentalists vs. the progressive educators vs. the Standardistos vs. ... and so on and so on.

Stasis is such a powerful force precisely because practically everyone has a stake in education the way it is constituted right now. In essence, most everyone wants to change the system to their particular liking while keeping the elements which currently benefit them.

By contrast, it is no coincidence that the ones who advocate the strongest change are those who have the least stake in the current system. So, for example, it's easy for Alvin Toffler to say we should “blow up the system”; he has that luxury because he has relatively little or no stake in it. Homeschooling advocates, particularly extreme groups such as the Christian Reconstructionists, have arguably had the most success in removing themselves from the current educational system because they have the least stake in it; the learning part of education is important to them, but they are able to disengage because they derive the least benefit from education’s custodial and socializing functions, since they want to do those functions themselves in their own particular ways.

Both resistance to change and stasis help education maintain its durability, but neither one is its most effective strategy for remaining durable. More on that in the next post...

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