The culture of K-12 education in America is very staid. It is dominated by hierarchical structures and influenced by powerful lobbies. It is a huge, slow-moving bureaucracy generally not influenced by real student needs.

And yet the need for change is widely agreed upon, both inside and outside of the system. Our youth are not being prepared adequately for the modern world. And while there is broad consensus on this point, there is little agreement on either the direction or process for that change, and there is little substantive change actually occurring.

The culture of the open movement is very free-flowing. It is not dominated by any particular establishments or associations. Instead, it is a loose collective of individuals who value openness, creativity, innovation, transparency, and sharing. Together, many nodes in the community have collaborated on creating some magnificent works: Linux, the human genome project, Wikipedia.

And while it strikes many of us that the open movement could inspire and inform the reforms that K-12 education desperately needs, the question of how to reconcile these two very different cultures looms. The habits, preferences, and even vocabulary of these cultures are completely different. The K-12 establishment, for its part, is adverse to change and to ideas like openness, transparency, and collaborative creation. The fear of the unknown outweighs the potential benefits in the eyes of policymakers. The open movement is biased toward rapid and radical change and doesn’t easily accommodate trying to flex to the status quo. The notion of compromising to be inclusive of more conservative viewpoints is not well received. Between these two extremes, the chasm is great.

Historical precedents for significant reform movements are prevalent. Sometimes major change comes through grass roots efforts that swell to become large populist movements. A highly charismatic leader can propel a radical idea to be accepted and embraced by the masses. Other times, bloody revolutions bring about change.

It is not obvious that any of these paths are either desirable or likely as a road for the reform of the K-12 educational system. Perhaps instead, its future is to be that of a sprawling, languorous empire in its decline. One day it will collapse under its own weight. Hopefully, the rubble and ashes will someday see the emergence of something new and better.

How Do Cultures Change? (part 1)
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