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Education Opinion

Stuff I Used to Think

By Nancy Flanagan — January 25, 2010 2 min read

Deborah Meier is wise. No other word for it. In her January webpage post, she’s musing on Richard Elmore’s “I Used to Think...And Now...” meme. (Favorite from Elmore: I used to think that policy was the solution. And now I think that policy is the problem.)

Once again, Deborah Meier made me reflect deeply. My own “used-tos:"


  • I used to think that a college degree was the leg up to success in life, an accomplishment that made you a better person, a stronger contributor. I thought it mattered less where you went to college than what you did with that education. Now, I understand that as a first-generation graduate of Regional State U, and a Baby Boomer, I was simply part of “credential creep.”

  • I used to think teaching was an honored and creative position, autonomous practice wrapped around a hard center of traditional certainties--core curriculum, bricks and mortar classrooms. Now I see that center shifting and malleable, while “experts” are bent on codifying teaching.

  • I used to think equity was something that could be accomplished, or at least improved, by money and resources. I thought Americans cared deeply about educational justice for children--saw equity as a critical civic goal, the rising tide lifting all boats. Now, I see these foundational ideas dismantled daily in the media, often obscured by noble-sounding rhetoric.

  • I used to think the mission of public schooling was giving every child a fair crack at a good life and citizenship--the blessings of liberty. Most Americans now believe schools are our economic training ground; if economic indicators are bleak, schools share the blame. What do I think? Schools have become places to sort kids into the proper bins and apply scientifically based interventions. Credentialing mechanisms.

  • I used to think that technology in education meant new stuff. Today, ask a teacher about technology in education and the conversation has a 90% chance of turning to the cool things you can do with Web 2.0 tools or Smart Boards. What I believe: great shifts in communication, media literacy and global access will wash over schools in the next two decades and render most traditional school practice--grades, classrooms, tracking, textbooks-- unnecessary. Existing School World will be utterly unprepared. Worse, these changes will not be driven by equity of opportunity or instructional innovation. They will be driven by commerce.

  • I used to think that a free, quality public education for all children--the common school-- was America’s best idea, its manifestation of representative democracy. This is the one idea I am not yet ready to relinquish.

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