Change in the Department of Defense Dependent Schools: No So Easy.



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"Change In DoDDs Schools: Not So Easy...."

 

The thesis in Hy Resnick's "A Leadership Challenge," Child and Youth Care Administrator, Fall 1988 is stated sensibly, relatively easy to understand, offers some interesting examples of change, and is of little relevance to my situation as an educator. For that reason, though I enjoyed reading Resnick's piece, I doubt it will have much effect on me or on others in my profession. I will explain these conclusions.

First, a major strength of Resnick's writing is its sensibleness. Most of things that he states in his piece will seem sensible to the average, educated reader. One example, one of his "principles" states "Select an aspect of the organization for change where there is dissatisfaction with the status quo among the staff, and/or clients, or both." Obviously, someone who wants to change an aspect of an organization would not have much success if everyone were satisfied with that aspect of the organization. Hence Resnick's conclusion seems sensible and easy to understand. It also seems, however, almost not worth being stated. One of the major strengths of this piece, then, that it provides few surprises, is also one of its major weaknesses.

This leads to a second conclusion: Resnick is not saying anything new, even within the rather nefarious field of the "study of change." I remember, while I was still teaching in Los Angeles, attending an entire in-service on how to "bring about change." If I went to such a workshop in 1988, even discounting the fact that Los Angeles is typically a Guinea pig area for new ideas in education, this means that what was being said by Resnick, in 1989, was several years older. In fact, in the textbook I read for my "Curriculum Design" class, a tome of some 500 pages, the author dedicated some 50 pages of lists of various kinds, similar to Resnick's, about conditions necessary to enact change. Resnick, himself, cites sources as old as 1955. If this much has been known about "change" for thirty or so years, one might wonder why hasn't this had some sort of dramatic effect on the way our society operates. A probable reasons that this literature has had little measurable effect is that most change agents, instead of spending their time reading articles on the subject of "change," instinctively or through trial-and-error reached most of the same conclusions as Resnick in the course of enacting real and genuine change. These change agents then wrote about their results, not about the subject of "change" itself. So again, the reason Resnick's article seems so agreeable is that it presents nothing new.

A third strength and problem with the article is it choice of examples. Resnick concentrates almost exclusively on examples from industrial bureaucracies, which organizational theory shows to be very different from public bureaucracies, such as a school or school system. The purpose of a business is to make money, and that is the measure of its success. Any procedure or employee of that business that increases profitability is likely to bring reward to its creator. Thus, it's easy to measure when a change, the subject of this article, has been worthwhile simply by looking at productivity, profitability, etc. A public bureaucracy, in contrast, has no clear goals except, perhaps, to serve its clients though the exact meaning of service may be extremely unclear and to preserve the jobs of its employees. For example, a teacher who tries teaching in a different way is more likely to be rebuked by a principal because of parent phone calls than rewarded because students are "learning more" or "maturing more." Since the goals of government agents in general, and schools in particular, are far harder to determine and the measures of them more amorphous, change is not likely to be sought by employees. Instead employees will try to reach more measurable goals, such as increasing personal power, salary, and, especially in this age, job security. Thus, while "change" may be interesting to study, since the guiding motivations of employees in the two differing bureaucracies are so different, Resnick's examples mean little outside of the area of business. To write about "change" in the school environment, Resnick would need to gather an entirely different set of examples from education.

Finally, as explained previously, "change" in the school environment is not likely to occur and, if so, may be guided through an entirely different and more daunting set of obstacles. The school environment is inherently conservative. Throughout the history of education, for example, only a half dozen or so important changes occurred in the classroom environment from the time of Socrates to myself:

1) Plato assembled students in classes, instead of teaching one on one.
2) After the Middle Ages students got to sit while teachers had to stand.
3) Guttenberg's press allowed for school books for everyone instead of just the teacher.
4) Massachusetts passed mandatory attendance laws.
5) Pencils were invented.

Other than these changes, relatively little change has occurred in classroom environment in 3000 years. Some of the more radical developments, such as the "open classroom" and non-toxic chalk, quickly faded into the dust. Compare this to the changes in industry and business from the time of handicraft shops to computer-driven factories, and it becomes apparent schools and education are inherently conservative. In part, this is because the function of education has always been to preserve a society's culture, not to create it. Only when a new element of that culture has been created, digested, condensed, and accepted, does it become a part of the school education. The educational system, therefore, and the schools, are therefore not a fertile ground for much experimentation or radical innovation. Within our own country, in particular, it is far more likely that an "idea man" will start his own company or take over an ailing company than that he will become a teacher.

To return to my own situation, I would say that change is perhaps least likely in my own environment. The DoDDs system is doubly burdened in that it must suffer all the bureaucracy of a Federal agency grafted on to all the bureaucracy of a school system, resulting in a double load of red tape. Further, most DoDDs teachers are in their forties and fifties, near enough to retirement to have more interest in career preservation than in innovation; the administrators are, on average, older still. Finally, the DoDDs system is a good distance from the centers of educational and even industrial innovation, such as New York and Los Angeles. The schools are even isolated from one another also. The result is an atmosphere is which modest innovation, enough to show that the change agent is not yet creatively "sterile" is encouraged, but any brand new ideas are met with suspicion and skepticism. Younger teachers, a relative term here, are encouraged to listen to their elders and learn from them; these elders, again, have often not taken educational classes or taught "Stateside" in many years.

In summary, Resnick's article resembles many that I have read and had little or no reaction towards, my reaction to his work also. The points he makes need not have been made: certainly, a work this unoriginal within the fields of American literature and history would not have found a publisher. Second, his examples pertain almost exclusively to business, which differs so much from education in its goals and motivation as to make any comparisons irrelevant. Finally, any change, even of the most minute kind, within the field of education is likely to take more than just planning and looking at a few "principles." Change in education, whether at a school or in a district, requires an understanding of the environment of the school itself, (Refer to my piece on the DoDDs system "The Little Town with the B-52s" for a reasonable example of the background research necessary), the community, and persons revolved. In short, change in education, and DoDDs in particular, is far more difficult than this article would seem to imply.


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