Blame and the Future of Education

teacher1I got lots of comments on my last post on the crisis in our schools. I was encouraged by the commitment and passion of so many people out there, those who are in the trenches as teachers and administrators in our schools. I sensed their own frustrations about what gets in the way of building better schools but a real determination to tackle the challenges.

One reader asked a question I have been pondering. While I didn’t like the statement behind the question, it was a fair question: Well, who are you blaming for the problems in our schools? At first I was surprised that I needed to try to blame anyone. On further thought, I realized this was a question prompted by anyone who is current on so many issues in our society. We need someone to blame, and for me to proclaim myself would give this reader a handle on where I really stood. Blame the teachers? Oh, OK, now I know where you are coming from. Blame the unions? Now the issue is intensely political. Blame the government, culture, failure in the home, racial attitudes — find your blame and perhaps we can get on with the conversation.

But really, would we set ourselves further down the road if we agreed on whom to blame? Doesn’t the blaming game just heighten the impasse and polarization? That was one of my big points in the earlier post — we’ve got to get beyond exactly this impasse. Leaders have got to figure this out. Clear out the distractions that focus on things other than children learning and developing and growing.

So, what if our first strategy was not trying to find out who to blame but who to praise? I know this is a bit naïve because certainly we must know what is not working. But what if we looked at the nation’s schools to find out what is working. What if we lifted up aggressively the successes — the things and values and strategies and philosophies and people — that work. That’s what every good leader does, shines the light on those who make it work, and that’s what leaders in our communities and our nation must do right now.

If the culture of blame defines our energy and focus and strategies, we will find ourselves trapped in this continuing paralysis. And the children will be left out. And our nation will indeed slip more deeply as a nation at risk.