There is so much dialogue–so much necessary dialogue–about what should change in education that we can lose sight of the other half of the equation: what should never change.
My purpose in this post is not to create the specific list of the things that should not change–that task is in the purview of each individual institution. My goal is simply to underline such a list’s centrality for any institution engaging change processes, for I believe it is vital for a school, college, or university to discern what they should never touch in order to ensure viability for the decisions that they might make regarding change. The bigger the proposed change, the more important it is to have a crystal clear idea of what not to touch.
There is a short list of things that should not change in any educational institution. (Interestingly, school communities tend to have a different, and perhaps longer, list than an institution could or ever should try to maintain.) Here is a list of some characteristics related to what should not change:
- Traditions that advantageously differentiate the school from all other schools.
- These traditions embody central ideals of the institution that are likely difficult to communicate without them.
- Theses traditions bring people together.
- They are positive cultural touchstones.
- They live beyond the socio-political-economic issues of the day.
- They have the power to bring people of different beliefs and backgrounds together.
- Things that maintain or increase the vitality of human relationships. Notice here that the answer may change regarding what produces this vitality, but the priority on it should not diminish.
- Characteristics that extend institutional growth potential. For instance, if a school, college, or university has a reputation for warmly welcoming new members of the community and for mentoring them, nothing should compromise the programs that support this reputation, particularly in an increasingly competitive market-place where having well-established programs in this area may lead to institutional growth and retention.
- I am confident that someone might make a valid suggestion for something I am missing–please leave a comment at the end of the blog.
We need to be aware that just because something is new doesn’t indicate necessarily that it is the better means to the same end. Conversely, the opposite is true as well–just because “we have always done it this way” doesn’t indicate it is necessarily better. I believe schools, colleges, and universities at times become confused between the means and the ends both in the context of pushing too quickly to change or in the context of fearing any change that might better serve the students in the school.
What an institution might believe is indispensable is possibly only the current means to an indispensable end, and perhaps there is a better answer to reach that indispensable end than has been yet deployed. What this should point out to us is that we need to push ourselves to discern what is best–what might be a better means to the end. Sometimes that means preserving something and other times it means changing it. The end is what should be preserved, while the means might change.
Once again, my eyes have been opened wider by Mr. Peters’ thoughts. What a wonderful guideline for assessing change–at both an institutional and a personal level. I am particularly struck by the distinction of ends vs. means. Perhaps there is an end that is not truly worthy which should be discarded. Perhaps there is an end that is truly worthy, with a betters means of getting there! — Thank you for enriching the world with your profound insights!
J Ross Peters says
Thanks so much for this and for, once again, being such a kind and thoughtful reader!