Friday, June 24, 2011

These Wings Don't Fly

The pervasive either-or dichotomy syndrome debilitates constructive debate in nearly every arena of societal concern. Like Dr.Dolittle's push-me-pull-me, framing issues as a choice of either this or that halts progress and hampers solution making. Education is no exception.
Either-or dichotomies are a convenient rhetorical device. Present one choice in positive language, the other in negative language, and let human emotion take over. Very few issues can be analyzed as simple either-or options, least of all, an issue as complex as education with its more than a score of stakeholders, each with their own competing interests.

The main problem with the either/or dichotomy syndrome is that it prevents people from considering alternatives. It pushes otherwise moderate people into wings: right/left, whole language/phonics. vouchers/traditional funding, and so many more. Often alternatives do not even occur to people in the wings. “Thinking outside the box” frequently means nothing more than having the ability to reject either/or frames. Once rejected, the mind is free to conceive alternatives.

As it is, complicated issues in education are dumbed down to a "right" and a "left" side. People end up emotionally offensive or defensive. The false dichotomies serve only as diversions. Each side spends all its time depicting their side as the positive one and the opposing side as negative. Therefore, arguing about dichotomies is counterproductive. The task is not to take sides, but to reject the dichotomies themselves.

The choice is NOT between:
either pro-union or anti-union
either pro-standardized testing or anti-standardized testing
either publics schools or private schools
either pro-charter or anti-charter
either phonics or whole language
either whole class novel/basal reader or individual student choice
either direct instruction or constructivism
either individual answers or choral response
either pro-calculators or anti-calculators
either teacher-directed or student-directed
either competition or cooperation
either lecture or hands-on
either "an autonomous professional entrusted with crafting engaging but occasionally idiosyncratic lessons" or "a standardized, curriculum-centered enterprise,...our practice is in turn videotaped to evaluate our use of the prescribed methods."
either vibrant creativity or stifling rigidity
either rote memorization or googling information
either teachers as professionals or teachers as hired laborers
either complete autonomy or micromanagement
At the risk of being cliché, the sooner we start thinking outside box by rejecting either/or formulations, the better.

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