In the past few years I've noticed a fair amount of people that tout themselves as education reformers using the catch phrase "The War on Education." It's not a phrase I have used in my writing. It's too violent and too negative, but I never knew there were others who felt the same way until I recently stumbled into a conversation with Tom Peters on Twitter. Mr. Peters is a writer and consultant on business management practices. He is best known for his book In Search of Excellence. But what, you ask, does this have to do with "The War on Education"?
When I happened to join the conversation, Mr. Peters was speaking with Diane Ravitch, educational historian, writer, political analyst, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, NYU professor and best known in our house as "the flip-flopper" who originally supported NCLB and then "changed her mind" when support fell away for these heartless mandates. Mr. Peters was commenting that running a consistently negative education campaign doesn't create positive change. Yes! Finally, someone that agrees with me. Someone else that is sick of the finger pointing. Someone else who is sick of being bludgeoned with negativity every time education reform dares to raise its ugly head.
The last time I remember hearing the term "War On_____" was about drugs or more recently terrorism. I remember the phrase "The War on Drugs" as I was growing up and it brought to mind dark alleys, strung out junkies and undercover cops working tough streets in even tougher cities. Ah, the vivid imagination of a child. Then of course in the past ten years we have heard plenty of rhetoric from Washington about the War on Terror. Which brings to mind shifty foreigners, mumbling in indiscernable languages, off the grid hideouts, and weapons of mass destruction created from garden fertilizer. Ah, the vivid imagination of an adult.
But seriously, doesn't this language seem a little heavy for the education debate? Drugs destroy lives, take lives and leave children without parents. Terrorism scars nations, divides people, leaves thousands dead. We should definitely be pulling out the heavy semantic artillery to fight these battles.
But education? Last I heard there were not any education reform terrorists. No hidden cells of militant teachers planning an attack on Charter Schools or roadside school bus bombs, so why "The War on Education"? We aren't at the point of children becoming lifelong addicts sitting in a third grade classroom and kids aren't endangered of being kidnapped by terrorists on the way to school. (Thank God!) Instead this language only further buries the education debate in a mountain of tragedy. It's definitely not the right image to facilitate positive necessary change. In reality, education should be a source of inspiration and exploration.
After the Twitter conversation, I headed over to Tom Peters' website to learn more about his influential approach to business. Once on his site, my respect for him only deepened. I became completely engrossed in his positive and extraordinarily successful approach to business. And yes, I'm praising someone in business, I'm applying a business approach to education. (Gasp!) Why? Because it will work!
In one of his most recent videos, Peters speaks about TGW. Some may remember this as an acronym used in the auto industry. It stands for Things Gone Wrong. Individuals and companies used to keep track of things that needed improvement this way. It's a great idea for cars. Not such a great approach for people. For education, for managing people in business, Peters suggest using TGR -- Things Gone Right. Pretty clever, right? Well, not really, but really helpful. Peters suggests that instead of keeping track of all the things that have gone wrong in one's business, to keep track of moments, big or small, that have gone RIGHT. Whoa. That's heavy. Well, not really.
None of this is rocket science, but it is the kind of thing that could turn the education debate on its ear. It's the kind of thing that could really spur positive change for kids and that's what I'm all about. Our children don't see this as a war, they see it as their lives and the sooner we can work out how to give them the best education possible, the sooner we are going to experience happier children, happier families and more innovation in our society. Positive thinking facilitates more positive thinking and good ideas build on one another and before you know it we are going to be dealing with solutions instead of problems.
So I think I'll start a new catchy phrase, "Peace, Not War on Education." And perhaps we can spark a new wave of conversation. One that is kid centered and parent approved, one that gets people talking, thinking and longing for positive change instead of longing to change the conversation.