Dead poets: bureaucracy, innovation and profits

Thinking as always about the impact of IT in education and in terms of teaching practice as a whole (I keep returning to Dogme!) the following quotes rang bells:

“Educational changes have endured when they have not altered the core tasks of the classroom teacher and have faltered or disappeared when they have required a major change in these core tasks.  … Classroom teachers did not have to change what they were doing when a school decided to … serve school lunches or set up new classes to help pupils with learning difficulties … They did have to change what they were doing when they were told to teach math in a new way, teach together with another instructor, use computers or provide individualized instruction … True innovation – that is, refining core tasks – may be especially difficult in schools because teaching cannot be observed easily nor its effects readily measured.” (James Q. Wilson: Bureaucracy 1989)

A lot to think about there and a lot that is familiar, a lot that marks the difference between reality and what Prensky foresees in terms of IT use.  It is also why coursebooks remain so popular and the plank we are all too happy to work from (see an entertaining discussion of this from Scott Thornbury (

The argument, however, may be placing too much emphasis on the teacher and neglecting other factors. I think many educational institutions (even smaller ones) are also very afraid of touching those core issues and particularly so if working in the private sector where superficial change looks good (we have IWBs in all our classrooms) but real change (we are learning to teach in different, unexpected ways) can threaten to affect finance. There are many teachers who do genuinely innovate but think of the Dead Poets Society: it is difficult to make a profit in your own land.


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