From Dan Baum’s recent Harper’s piece about drug legalization: “After telling the BBC in December that ‘if you fight a war for forty years and don’t win, you have to sit down and think about other things to do that might be more effective,’ Columbian president Juan Manuel Santos legalized medical marijuana by decree.” (I recommend reading the whole piece and I will likely mention it again in the next few days; here I just have this small thing to say about the Santos quotation.)
This reminded me of an old story in The New Yorker about artificial leaf technology. Harvard professor Daniel Nocera is quoted: “For the past two hundred years, we’ve run this other experiment, with fossil fuels, and it’s not working out so well.”
We forget that the things we try are experiments. They become truths, or mandates, part of the fabric of life and society. So if and when they are not working, it can be hard to abandon them and try new ones. It feels like we have no choice but to keep trying variations on whatever approach we’ve grown accustomed to, without rethinking the basis of the experiment.
I cannot think of many realms in which this is more true than it is in education.