[Editors Note: Paragraph 4 below refers to graphic research and sexuality.]
Release: April 19, 2009 - b Wordcount: 680
Traditional versus Innovative
Education is full of awards for being “innovative.” If you do something new and different, even if it doesn’t work, you have a good chance of being praised and awarded just because it was “innovative.” You “thought outside of the box.” Your were “ahead of your time.”
Educators who use “traditional” methods are automatically considered “old fashioned.” Even if their students are performing better, it is time for them to change. When a traditional teacher points out that their students perform better than under the innovative and often high tech method, the teacher is accused of having “closed their mind” as if closing your mind is always a bad thing.
Science, the most successful enterprise of modern humanity, does not operate this way. Science is based upon and highly values tradition. And in science, closing the mind is an important method in science.
Why is it important for scientists to “close their minds”? Much of the research we do in science proposes hypotheses that we test and discover are not correct. We “go down the wrong alley” and our results are negative; that is, they positively prove that something was not the correct answer. A classic example of such important research occurred when the new disease of AIDS appeared in the 1980s. What could be shutting down the immune system? The male homosexual community was among the first affected. Experiments done with mice showed rectal injection of semen failed to depress the immune system. Science closed its mind to this hypothesis and moved on to eventually discover that a virus caused the syndrome. Much science is done by the systematic “closing of the mind” to those things that do not work.
The body of knowledge that is discovered, all of the explanations that do work, is called the paradigm of science. Another word for paradigm is “tradition.” Science is the body of solid growing knowledge—“traditions” that work. Scientists respect traditions because that is the body of knowledge on which we build new hypotheses. It reliably leads to the next breakthrough. Any “innovation” or “thinking outside the box” is given no respect unless it proves out.
Keeping your mind “open” when research shows it does not work, is not science. So the common “wisdom” that you must always “keep your mind open” would bring science to a halt.
Cold fusion? Didn’t work. Poly-water? Didn’t prove out. Bending spoons with your mind? Wrong again.
Now, back to education, where no innovation is ever proclaimed dead. Educational television was a failure but we still promote it as innovative distance education. Programmed instruction (also called “drill and practice”) drilled and killed any student interest, but is an “innovation” used today in computer instruction modules. Individualized instruction and diagnostic teaching worked teachers to death and students progressed more slowly; it is now being revived as the innovation of “tailoring interventions to meet individual needs.”
A colleague in science summarized: “the most enduring aspect of American science education is amnesia.” By that he means that we forget what works and try to reinvent it, or forget what doesn’t work and try it again.
Education has no paradigm. Education never kills ideas that do not work. And today’s educational innovation rapidly becomes tomorrow’s discarded tradition. So veteran teachers have good reason to be cynical when the next educational “innovation” is trotted out and rewarded. Good teachers close their minds to ideas that do not work. And they should.