Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sometimes when you blow a something up, you just get rubble...

I know we've been over this before, but most of the fundamental ideas in the education reform movement (the magic of the markets, scientific management, etc.) are unsurprisingly popular with CEOs, ex-CEOs and other thought leaders of the business class. One of the most popular is disruptive innovation, so much so that the satiric counter-reform site Edushyster makes the overuse of the word 'disruption' a running joke.

Like many of these MBA-friendly concepts, there is some substance to the idea, but not much. While it is true that new approaches and technologies often make old ones obsolete (and cause corporate fortunes to rise and fall as a consequence), attempts to derive useful business rules to deal with this phenomena have produced little but jargon-filled platitudes supported by case studies that go beyond cherry-picked.

Jill Lepore eviscerated most of the standard examples (and pissed off quite a few Silicon Valley types) in this recent New Yorker piece. She also delved into the appeal of the idea.
Most big ideas have loud critics. Not disruption. Disruptive innovation as the explanation for how change happens has been subject to little serious criticism, partly because it’s headlong, while critical inquiry is unhurried; partly because disrupters ridicule doubters by charging them with fogyism, as if to criticize a theory of change were identical to decrying change; and partly because, in its modern usage, innovation is the idea of progress jammed into a criticism-proof jack-in-the-box.

The idea of progress—the notion that human history is the history of human betterment—dominated the world view of the West between the Enlightenment and the First World War. It had critics from the start, and, in the last century, even people who cherish the idea of progress, and point to improvements like the eradication of contagious diseases and the education of girls, have been hard-pressed to hold on to it while reckoning with two World Wars, the Holocaust and Hiroshima, genocide and global warming. Replacing “progress” with “innovation” skirts the question of whether a novelty is an improvement: the world may not be getting better and better but our devices are getting newer and newer.
As is often the case, movement reformers have not only adopted this flawed business fad; they have embraced its most cartoonish form.

I've already discussed the class and race components of Arne Duncan's quote: “I think the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina,” but he was also expressing the fetishized attitude toward creative destruction that is common in reform circles.

Michigan provides another example:
Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said he had expected [Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy] Roberts to discuss Monday’s upcoming visit by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

“When he said, ‘I’m stepping down,’ all of our mouths just dropped,” Johnson said. “I can’t say it’s a bad day. I can’t say it’s a good day, because we don’t know who’s coming next.”

Roberts also told those gathered more shocking news: His initial instructions when he arrived in Detroit were to “blow up the district and dismantle it,” Johnson said.

“He’s got nothing to lose by saying it now,” Johnson added.

Roberts said he spent the first several months of his tenure convincing state officials the district was worth saving, according to board members.

“Blow it up – those were his exact words,” Detroit School Board member Tawana Simpson confirmed.
Roberts has been trying to back away from that comment ever since he said it, but both the sentiment and the language are absolutely in line with the movement. You hear this sort of thing all the time if you follow education reform, often coming directly from the leading lights of the creative disruption cottage industry and it is exactly how you would expect Gov. Rick Snyder to frame the problem.

Of course, the disruption of New Orleans and Michigan has not proven all that creative...

1 comment:

  1. Creative disruption is used to overwhelm people so they don't have the time to organise to resist the changes acted upon them.