Whenever there’s a drive for a particular change in education, reformers talk as though change in general were desirable and good. Those who “resist change” are seen as impediments to reform.
During the curriculum change movement of the 1950s, education reformers applied social engineering methods to curriculum change. Many faculty meetings were devoted to the “change process,” with group activities designed to “re-educate” teachers and bring about consensus. (For a fascinating analysis of this movement, see Ravitch, Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform, pp. 335-343.)
Policymakers continue to use social engineering techniques in order to bring about change in schools. Professional development facilitators use those methods frequently. It is not difficult to find articles, policy papers, and opinion pieces that glorify change and trivialize opposition to change. See, for example, Jana Hunzicker, “The Beliefs-Behavior Connection: Leading Teachers Toward Change” (Principal, November/December 2004, pp. 44-46). According to this article, teachers resist change because of low levels of knowledge, experience, and comfort, as well as poor moral and ego development. Not once does the author consider that the change in question might be a bad idea and that those who resist it might be wise.
Why the assumption that those who resist change are defective? Aren’t some changes much sounder than others? If a school is considering a flawed reading program, for example, some teachers may resist it for excellent reasons. Why ascribe shortcomings to them and not to the proposed change itself?
Demiashkevich offered a dualist conception of education, combining idealism and materialism. In An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, he argued that neither idealism nor materialism is sufficient in itself to explain existence or to address the complexities of education. We must honor both permanence and flux. Change has no inherent goodness. On p. 123 he writes:
The confusion between novelty and desirability, between changing and improving, should, of course, be vigilantly avoided in education as much as in other human matters, or perhaps even more so. On the other hand, suggestions for reform and the invitation to review the existing educational situation, when prompted by a sincere and solid quest for social good, should be welcomed.
Once we break the link between “novelty and desirability,” between “changing and improving,” we can consider individual changes on their own merits. The dissident voices may be among our greatest assets, because they can help us recognize when we are doing something silly.
In his wonderful little book And Madly Teach (1949), Mortimer Smith poses the question:
We have been going along now for some time on the theory that education consists simply of experience and change and “growth,” and this theory has not, as far as I can see, furthered the millennium to any startling degree. Perhaps we need to set up some ends for education; perhaps we need to ask, “Growth towards what?”
Yes, growth towards what? Change of what, and why? And what do we hope to keep?