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Sep 4, 2017

Longing for bigger ideas

I think we have a good plan for the next few year. It is in the Vision statement we crafted together over a few meetings during last Spring. I think we can relatively easy attain those goals. Is that it though? In my personal Weltanschauung, I need a bigger, almost unobtainable challenge. I think we should take a crack at innovating our way into cracking one of the big educational challenges. For example, no one has yet figured out how to make higher education affordable. We have tremendous dropout rates in state universities. The K-12 system remains mysteriously resistant to all attempts to improve it, especially in our efforts to reduce inequality. We have almost no idea boost future educators’ relational skills. These kinds of problems, larger than just us, the global, consequential ones.

I am not naïve about innovation in education. My colleagues and I found a way to talk about it in Ohio and Colorado. At RIC, we had a nice small group, called TEIL – the Teacher Education Innovation Lab. At HSE, I headed a research lab on educational innovations. While some good things came out of these things, radical innovation in education is devilishly difficult, especially if you know something about history of education. Almost everything has been tried already; most educational reforms and movements ultimately fail to bring results they hoped for. The more I know about education, the more I am in awe of its mysteries. We are missing something important about the thing everyone knows so intimately. In addition, to be completely honest, everyone in the world has ran out of ideas. Accountability, technology, choice – those are just the three recent big failures; there is a dozen older and smaller ones. There is still plenty to do in a way of gradual, systematic improvements; no mystery about those. However, no one in the last 150 years who promised radical improvements could deliver. And we do not know why. I can go on and on about why this might be the case. In Moscow, I think we came up with at least six or seven hypotheses about why education seems to be immune to innovation. None of them have been proven or disproven. One is that significant change in education is impossible, because education is like human nature, runs against biological limits. The other one is that perhaps we had not have any good ideas yet. I like the latter one, because I want to believe it.

Anyway, let’s try to set up some sort of a group to talk about big things in education. Somewhere it is safe to talk crazy ideas without looking ridiculous. Perhaps every other week, at some bad time like Friday afternoon, and we will take turns pitching questions or unlikely proposals. Any takers? Let me know. You don't have to be in California; we can have an on-line extension. Something in my life is missing without it.


  1. In regard to achieving “affordable higher education,” I’d like to suggest you take a look at:
    Students don’t pay tuition until AFTER they get hired.
    Average Graduate Salary? $105K
    Think that is bogus? Read what actual students and graduates have to say about it before forming an opinion:
    - Bill Vicars