The Conservationist Ethic, or “You don’t know what you got (till it’s gone)”

John Muir

Joan Jett “You Dont Know What You Got” (click to listen or download)

With the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on the table, Race to the Top continuing, the Investing in Innovation (I3) rules set, a reorganization of Madison schools (scroll for links) and local budget choices that may privilege new initiatives over existing programs and services; it is a good time to repost one of my favorite essays on education reform: David Tyack’s  “A Conservationist Ethic in Education?.”

I think this is a must read for all would-be-education-reformers and all School Board members.

Here is an excerpt:


Believers in progress through rapid education reform often want to reinvent schooling. The dead hand of the past has created problems for these rational planners to solve, preferably quickly. A conservationist takes a different view of experience, asking what needs to be saved as well as changed.

The word progress pops up everywhere in educational discourse, even in the rhetoric of critics who want to blame schools for just about any problem. During the Reagan Administration, the official American report on education for UNESCO was called “Progress Education in the United States,” while the major tool for measuring our national achievement bears the optimistic name of National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In reform circles enamored of change and inclined toward Utopian solutions to improve schooling, a belief in progress can obscure the task of conserving the good along with inventing the new. In mitigating one set of problems, innovations may give rise to new discontents. In each major period of reform in the history of American public education, different plans for progress and different discontents emerged.

Wise thoughts.  Locally we only need think of the Ready, Set, Goals conferences to see the applicability of Tyack’s caution for the need to balance “progress” and “conservation.”

For more, see David Tyack and Larry Cuban’s Tinkering Toward Utopia:  A Century of Public School Reform.

Larry Cuban has also been blogging and his site is now on my regular read link list.

The other reason I posted this is it gave me a chance to link Joan Jett and John Muir.

Thomas J. Mertz

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Filed under Accountability, Best Practices, education, Local News, National News, nclb, No Child Left Behind, Uncategorized

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