The Power of ‘What If’

What if you had a genie, a lamp, and a wish that wouldn’t backfire? What wouldn’t you waste that wish on? Well, if it were me, and I had the perfect set-up for a wish (and assuming that I was feeling just a tad altruistic at that moment), I would catch myself, mouth half-open about to wish for a more fluid and equitable education system. A marvelous national educational system where everyone can (and does) get what they need. But, like I said, I would catch myself. That little taste of genie-induced reform would only last for a year, maybe a few at best, before it was lost and forgotten, ready to assume it’s rightful place alongside the ghosts of failed policies past. I think my wish deserves better than that.


It seems to me that policy changes in the field of education are incredibly hard to make. There’s long-established perceptions, beliefs, and ideas about what makes a good school. A good school has classes, grade levels, assessment-based grades, subjects, chunks of time for teaching those subjects, a primary instructor to disseminate information, a main office, a trophy case, and who knows what else. Shame on anyone for trying to add or take away from the well-oiled, established and interconnected system of education that we already have in place. But people do try – people try very hard. And I’m sure there are a few who would’ve used their wish, without thinking, on enhancing a system that doesn’t need enhancing (Rest in peace, Dalton Plan, and Hallelujah to the Carnegie Unit and Grading System). Waste or not, it’s a good thing that people like that exist.


Despite what I have already said, it’s important to know that I identity as an optimist with a healthy dash of pessimism. I believe that good can be done by those who think hard, work hard, and persevere long enough. Anyone who gets involved in education has to believe that, or they’ll learn to believe it. Otherwise, they will likely find it time to step out of the roasting hot kitchen that is the field of education. But like I said, I’m an optimist.


Given the opportunity, I would take the time to think of a flawless wish – at least in my eyes. And after I did the best that I could do, I would round up a fair amount of people to find its chinks. We would have a few meetings, propose revisions, people could go through the whole voting process of objecting, abstaining, filibustering, and whatever else goes on during those sorts of things. And at the end, I’d have a document with a nice little executive summary for the genie to read, just so he/she/it would know exactly what my wish was. I wouldn’t want anything getting lost in translation. After all, my wish would be the saving grace to all of the issues in the system.


But good intentions, at least in education world, don’t always have the desired results. Most, if not all, of the elements of our education system that have become the norms, or the grammar, of schooling were created with good intentions.


But who knows, maybe there’s a perfect wish out there after all. And someone is waiting to grant it. In the meantime, I say we brainstorm – alone and with others – about what needs fixing. How can we make the necessary revisions to the grammar of schooling and leave our kids and education professionals better equipped to do what that they do best? At worst, you wasted a wish and a few minutes of your life.


[Casper Rhay]

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