This was written by Diana Senechal, a former New York City public school teacher, who has written for Education Week, American Educator, Educational Leadership, The Answer Sheet, and numerous other blogs. Her book, “Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture,” will be published by Rowman & Littlefield Education in November 2011.

By Diana Senechal

I have had it with the term “status quo.”

Everywhere you go, if you question any of the dominant reforms (value-added assessment, virtual schools, school closings, rigid pedagogical models, etc.), you are branded a defender of the status quo. Apparently the world is divided into two camps: those who embrace change and those who resist it. The latter group, of course, is an inconvenience to those seeking “progress.” If only those status quo people would get out of the way, we’d see some good old-fashioned change.

Balderdash. All depends on what sort of change is being sought and in what manner. Many question a particular change with good reason, not because they reject change in general. By presenting change as an unequivocal good, reformers sabotage whatever elements of good the change may have had. Embracing a reform recklessly, without care for the questions and concerns of others, they end up making reams of mistakes, wasting time and money, causing distress and damage, backtracking, undoing the change, and ultimately spinning in that same old “status quo” they derided.

Quite often, a change has the opposite of the intended effect. In my third year of teaching, the principal decided tht the school needed a bit of shaking up. In her view, the school’s three academies were too isolated from one another, each one serving a particular group of students on one of the floors of the schools. She thought that the teachers needed to influence each other more. So she decided that teachers would teach classes on all four floors, not just on the floor of their academy. Students already traveled from class to class; now most teachers would be traveling as well.

Unfortunately this plan had the opposite of the intended effect. Teachers were rushing from the first floor to the fourth, lugging crates of supplies—with no time to greet each other in the hall, let alone influence and enlighten each other. In every period throughout the day, a teacher had to contend with a different classroom. Some teachers complained that others were leaving a mess in their classrooms, erasing what they had written on the board, or rearranging the desks. The principal reminded them that the classrooms were not “theirs.” This made for a hectic atmosphere, not a collegial one.

The principal had the school’s best interest at heart. So did those who criticized this change; they weren’t simply grumbling. It created new problems, and it wasn’t the best way to bring faculty members in closer contact. If there had been a discussion beforehand, involving teachers, then this plan might not have gone through, or it might have been modified.

In 1935, Michael John Demiashkevich wrote that schools were subjecting students to too much experimentation without first performing the necessary step of mental experimentation—looking at a proposed change from many angles and considering where it might go wrong. We need this kind of mental experimentation today, and we need to draw on the insights of teachers, administrators, and others concerned parties.

Change is not inherently wonderful. All depends on the nature of the change and the manner in which it is implemented. Some change is simply gratuitous, a waste of effort with little reward. Some change has a laudable purpose but questionable means. Some change is mostly positive but carries a few losses that are hard to justify. Some change is inspired and excellent. Instead of treating “change” as something “true reformers” embrace and “status-quo defenders” resist, we should break it down and look into it further.

As for the “status quo,” there is really no such thing, except in the term itself. Show me a school where things stay the same from year to year—where there are no upheavals, economic changes, changes of student body, sudden mandates from above, or pressure on the principal to do anything dramatic. Show me a teacher who does not try to do things a little bit differently day by day. Show me districts filled with impervious teachers and schools, and I will take a telescope out of my pocket with hopes of getting a glimpse of Earth, knowing that it is far away.

Change is always upon us. Our task is to sort it out, with full conscience and mind, and to determine the best course of action. Those who refer to critics as “status quo defenders” will ensure a status quo by preventing intelligent discussion.


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