The Problem is the Wrong Solution

Take a look at the graphic that accompanies this text.  At first glance, you may think that just by rearranging the shapes, the “whole” now has a “hole.”  But if you look very, very closely, you’ll see that the hypotenuse lines are not the same.  Superimposing the two triangles shows a difference in the lines.  If you take the space between the lines and compact it, you get the mathematical equivalent of an extra “square” in the shape.  Take a piece of graph paper and try it.

It’s a great way to explain why we can’t seem to solve the problems in our educational system.

Author and consultant Patrick Lencioni has said that we don’t like hard simple solutions; we like easy complex ones.

Think about it.  That most certainly applies to technology today.  Need to get organized?  The hard simple solution is to schedule time to go through everything on your desk and decide if it’s important, or if it’s not.  If important, it can be prioritized; if it’s not, it can be either filed or shredded.

Why is that hard?  It takes time, decision-making skills, and energy.  Organizing is always more tiring that creating something, since organizing is simply rearranging the pieces, but when something new is created, the action of accomplishment makes one feel joy, and joy mitigates fatigue.

What’s the easy, complex solution?  Find an app or a device to help us get organized.  That’s the easy part; the complexity kicks in when we discover how the app or device functions, how we must also have the desktop version or the desktop software to make it function properly, and then need to digitize all those documents on our desk so that we can use the new app or device to organize them and…goodness, I’m tired already, and nothing’s been done.

So what does this have to do with solving the problem of the educational system in this country?  In a recent video called “Where Have All the Teachers Gone?” several teachers are interviewed on camera.  They say that testing is not the answer, and lament the fact that testing used to take up about two weeks of the school year.  Now, it takes up about six.  Low pay, lack of resources, expectations, decisions made by non-educators which affect educators, diminishing tax bases, disengaged parents and children living in poverty that don’t know where their next meal is coming from or don’t have a roof over their heads are cited as some of the many reasons that people aren’t choosing education as a career path today.  And now, let’s throw in a pandemic where it’s not known from one day to the next if school will be in person or remote, and parents need to adjust their work schedules immediately.  The fact of the matter is that there are a number of qualified teachers available, but they don’t necessarily want to teach in the areas that need teachers for all of the reasons listed above.

So what happens?  Someone tries to solve the problem.  And when you “solve a problem” as part of a classroom exercise, there is usually one correct answer.  And there isn’t “one” correct solution here.  That’s is precisely the problem inherent in education: the way educators are trained is the way educators train everyone else.

Give us a math problem.  How many correct answers are there?  Give us a standardized test.  How many correct answers to the question are there?  Usually one.  If you’re investigative something of a scientific nature, there’s the “if this, then that” (today, called IFTTT) protocol, which is basis of linear thinking.

Teachers are masters of linear thinking.  If we add 2 to 2, what’s the sum of the two numbers?  If we consider a sentence, what is the main verb in it?  Since educators live in the IFTTT world, then to solve educational problems, we’ll test more.  If that doesn’t work out, perhaps we’ll get additional resources.  If that doesn’t work, perhaps we can find ways to get parents to become more engaged with their children’s schoolwork.  We take it one step at a time.  It’s linear thinking.

And that’s the wrong thinking needed to solve today’s problems.  It’s not the “or” operator; we need to use the “and” operator.  It’s not low pay, or lack of resources, or expectations, or decisions made by non-educators which affect educators, it’s low pay AND lack of resources AND expectations AND decisions made by non-educators which affect educators.  All those things connected together create a system, which, non-coincidentally, is why it’s called an educational system, rather than an educational process.

Systemic strategies and solutions are necessary.  What are some of those solutions?  They’re easy.  But easy solutions are hard to implement, because things can get messy.  Think of a juggler who can handle 5, 7, 9 or even juggling a dozen raw eggs at one time.  It’s simple.  It’s “juggling.”  Is it easy to juggle 7 to 12 things at once?  Certainly not.  Is there the potential for things to get messy?  Absolutely.  There’s the saying that things will get worse before they get better.  It implies that there will be failures along the way, and the learning that results from the failure is important in solving the problem.  Researchers know this, as it’s at the core of their work.  The problem is that we don’t accept that saying.  We want an easy solution, even if it’s complex.  We want it to work “right” “right out of the box.”  It’s that “silver-bullet” solution to a difficult problem that everyone is looking for.  The problem, therefore, isn’t the problem; the problem is that “silver-bullet” solutions don’t exist.  If you do one thing – it leads to another.