What the Diet Industry Can Teach Us About the Education System

09/17/2017 08:08 pm ET

As I waited in line at the grocery store this weekend, I glanced over the magazine covers in the checkout lane. They were typical in the sense that if these covers were transported five years back in time, you wouldn’t be able to tell. New diets promising inches lost are still front cover fodder. Beyoncé is still queen. Taylor Swift is still a thing, although she’s dead. But, what struck me in that moment as particularly poignant was this never-ending diet craze, probably because I’m on a fitness journey of my own.

It’s dumbfounding to me that equally-as-dumb diets repeatedly captivate us as this ever-illusive holy grail of health. For the most part, the science behind dieting hasn’t changed: eat healthy, create a caloric deficit, and lose weight. Yet, culturally speaking, we’re having a hard time catching on.

There’s no shortcut to a healthier you. Deep down, we know this. However, we continue to convince ourselves it’ll work this time. That’s because it’s easier to tell ourselves it wasn’t our fault we flopped the first time. It just wasn’t the right plan for us. We would rather believe in a fictitious magic pill than admit the truth: we were capable all along, but we failed to commit.

This same concept, I believe, is central to what’s wrong with our education system. The current state of education looks a lot like a magazine cover. We’re perpetually just one trend, one study, or one election away from real change. When it comes to fixing the problem with education, we aren’t a lot of things, but there’s one thing we are. We’re wrong.

Education may not make the front page of many magazines, but it is grabbing plenty of headlines. A quick search of the topic on Google News revealed a near-universal infatuation with change. Increased funding for vocational programs, a plea for school choice, a de-emphasis on college, and a state’s teacher shortage were a few of the top-billed stories over the weekend. We know something needs to change. We’re just not sure what.

So, we’re trying everything. Flexible seating? You got it. Tech integration? On it. Bouncy bands? Tell me where to sign up. Collaboration? Check. Project-based learning? Nailing it. Fidget spinners? Too. Far. Every education fad follows a predictable pattern: it arrives with great promise after a new study(!!!), reaches buzzword status, is awarded its own acronym, and fizzles out of style just in time for the arrival of the next one. This merry-go-round of education fads is dizzying enough to send any teacher to the nurse’s office.

Still, we keep hopping onboard despite knowing it won’t solve anything. We do it because we want what’s best for our kids and, until proven harmful, we’ll try anything to help. Take collaboration as an example. While collaboration can be a powerful tool for educators and students alike, our celebration of All Things Collaborative™ sets up an entire segment of the populace for failure: introverts. In 2015, Michael Godsey’s article “When Schools Overlook Introverts” appeared in The Atlantic, asking an important question: are we neglecting the needs of our introverted students all because of a buzzword? I’ve watched firsthand as veteran introverted teachers struggled to master a collaborative style of instruction so foreign to them, they might as well be teaching in another language. They wasted time, energy, and resources so they could get an extra check mark on an evaluation. Eventually, they began pushing back as test scores remained stagnant. Subsequently, administrators rightfully pulled back on the collaboration throttle.

If this constant shift in approach isn’t working, why don’t we stop already? Because new approaches mean new training. That comes with a price tag. The biggest names in education stand to make bigger sums of money if they can get us to literally buy into these fads.

For politicians, it may mean less about actual money and more about political capital. If they can oust those who previously sat at the helm and select a few new policies, they might be able to finesse statistics into looking like their leadership drove radical change. Ultimately, it’s not about doing what is right for students. It’s simply about doing what is different.

That’s the idea I can’t seem to shake. Why is it that we assume different is better? Why are veteran teachers being painted as dinosaurs that need to get out because they’ve lost their spark? Why do we value ideas for being recent and uncharted instead of sustainable and proven?

We’re celebrating dramatic before-and-afters, but we aren’t studying what it took to get there or if it’s possible to maintain. I may not know all the answers, but embracing education fads seems like a recipe for disaster. Nutritionists have been saying for years what they continue to say now: there’s no substitute for diligence, hard work, and dedication. Why should education be any different?

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