Broken or Transforming?

"Zhuangzi ~ (Image is in the Public Domain, artist unknown)"
Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly,
fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly.
I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou.
Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again.
Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly,
or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.

Education is NOT broken.

Let’s start using language that is constructive rather than counterproductive. Let’s use models based on questioning, innovation, and learning rather than complaining, alarming, and whistle-blowing. Our language shapes us and what we do. Try as we may, we do not find peace through a war on terror; We do not mend relationships with litigation; We do not ‘fix’ schools when we use a ‘broken’ model.


I understand why outstanding and outspoken educational leaders like Chris Lehmann say it is broken. I understand the need to create an urgency for change. Things move too slowly. But language matters. The metaphors we live by shape us.

When there is a transformation happening it doesn’t necessarily look good on the ‘outside’. There is a transformation happening in education… and it’s exciting, and filled with potential. If you were to classify the state of a caterpillar as it transformed to a cocoon, you might say it’s broken… even dead, but on the inside of the cocoon there is an incredible amount of promising changes occurring.

Let’s face it, what we want for our children to gain in schools is different than what the factory model of schools was designed to deliver. So why measure success based on the old model? Shall we put our children back into rows, have them memorize the content of the curriculum and fail them when they can’t sit still while they have their education delivered to them by one-way delivery of content from the authority in the front of the room? No.

Imagine having track and field judges, with their stop watches and measuring tapes, judging rhythmic gymnastics… Imagine having higher order thinking skills and in-depth portfolio studies measured with standardized tests based on a curriculum ‘a mile long and an inch deep’.

Here is a ruler… I want you to measure how I’m feeling right now.

When I see school leaders coming together and sharing ideas about moving our schools forward,

…I see a transformation of leadership.

When I see educators speaking out against standardized tests, and joining in to abolish grades,

…I see a transformation of assessment.

When I see students connecting to other students around the globe and collaborating in shared learning spaces,

…I see a transformation of practice.

We are far more innovative when we are in a ‘creating’ rather than ‘repairing’ mode.

Broken language: smashed, shattered, fragmented, splintered, crushed, snapped; in bits, in pieces; destroyed, disintegrated; cracked, split;

Transforming language: change, alteration, mutation, conversion, metamorphosis, transfiguration, transmutation; revolution, overhaul; remodeling, reshaping, reconstruction, rebuilding, reorganization, rearrangement, reworking, renewal, revamp, remaking;

Stop accepting the idea that a schools can be broken:

“If we change the vocabulary and consider schools as learning environments, however, it makes no sense to talk about them being broken because environments don’t break.” (Thomas & Brown)

Stop fixing schools and start creating the schools we want to see. Follow along as educational leaders develop school-wide plans to create learning environments in classes and in schools that are innovative, in line with what technology permits at this time, and flexible enough to adapt as new technology and concepts emerge. Contribute to the conversation about how we can bring all interested parties into an authentic conversation about how a collective ‘we’ can provide an open, transparent and meaningful educational model that promotes inquiry, a love of learning and empowered learners.

The Finnish Way is to prioritize “Professionalism”. Is the current language about the field of education professional? Are we approaching our own profession in a way that inspires other professionals to rise to the challenges we face today?

What language do we use?
Broken, or Transforming.
Fixing, or Creating.
Struggling, or Striving.
Failing, or Evolving.
Repairing, or Resolving.

What guides us?
Frustration, or Passion.

And what do we dream of?
Mending, or Metamorphosis.

Let’s transform education.

Our perspective matters. Our attitude matters. Our language matters. Let’s choose the language we use wisely. Let’s transform our language and let’s transform education. It is the struggle during transformation that gives the butterfly it’s strength to fly. So, let us also accept that transformation is not easy, but worth the effort.

"The Butterfly Lesson"
(Cross-Posted on David Truss :: Pairadimes for Your Thoughts)


  1. Darcy Moore said:

    Completely agree with this important post. I particularly like the idea we are ‘creating’ rather than ‘repairing’ and ‘prioritizing professionalism’ is of great import too. Lets transform education!

    May 12, 2011
  2. Mark Linton said:

    I completely agree with this message. Fortunately, or unfortunately, the benchmark for broken, struggling, and failing schools is urban education. There’s no doubt that many of these high needs areas need “creation” and “resolution”, but public education as a whole seems to be more closely aligned with what you’ve described.

    May 14, 2011

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