3 Questions to Change the Cult of Quantification in Schools

“Love is the most durable power in the world”
–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today’s blog is the second in a series of the foundational characteristics of the New Operating System in Education. The first installment was last week and discussed hope as the first defining characteristic of the new OS of education.

Three years ago, a teacher walks out to the where the students are getting on the bus as they leave for the last day of school. She joins her colleagues as they say good bye to the kids for the summer. If you are a teacher you know the mixed emotions you have on the last day of school. There is a mixed bag of relief that the school year is over and sadness that the school year is over. You have helped students grow academically and mature emotionally. This particular teacher waves good bye to her students and is about to turn to go back into the school when she notices a student run out of a bus and come to her. Recognizing him as one of her students, she asks him if he has forgotten anything. He tells her that he has not forgotten anything but he wants to tell her something. He goes on to say, “I just want to tell you that you are my favorite teacher and you made math fun!”. The student then turned around and ran back on the bus. Statements like this by the student serve as the fuel that keeps teacher’s engines going. When the teacher relayed this story to me (because it was my son who ran off the bus to talk to her) she simply said, “that made everything I did this year worth it…I love my job!”.

The process of learning is incredibly complex. Although statisticians claim they can “control” all the variables that contribute to learning, those of us who have spent any time in a school know they are fooling themselves and anyone that believes them. It may be comforting to believe that you can quantify something as complex as human interaction, but we understand you can’t. The old operating system of education is founded on the principle that everything that happens in school can be quantified…including all of the complex human interactions that contribute to learning. The cult of quantification has become so embedded into the education system that most people assume there is no other way to view education except through numbers, statistics and “growth” scores. (BTW, just writing the last sentence made me realize even more how ridiculous the cult of quantification is…imagine the ego it takes to believe you can quantify everything a human feels and does…silly!).

One of the consequences of the cult of quantification in education is the rise of competition. The old operating system of education is an example how competition and quantification worked synergistically to strangle the entire education system. The cult of quantification believes that everything can be reduced to numbers. Numbers mean that you can rank factors on a scale. Ranking on a scale means that you can shame those people or schools that do not have the “right” numbers and use the numbers to further justify more quantification. In essence, using numbers to justify more numbers! In the old operating system, numbers are used for shame and blame. Shame the students, teachers and schools whose numbers aren’t “good enough” and place blame on students, teachers and schools whose numbers aren’t good enough. Finally, competition creates an atmosphere where students, teachers and schools are reluctant to share because they are being compared with each other and who wants to help your competition look better when it will make you look worse?

The new operating system replaces competition and the cult of quantification with love. Yes, I said it… love! Love for your fellow humans; love for your community; love for your profession; love for your students; and love for the world. Love comes from a place deep inside your soul as you give a part of yourself to someone else. In the new operating system, love leads the thinking so teachers view the good that is inherent in every student. Love helps guide the education leaders so they use their kids as the lens in the decision-making process and not use political or fiscal considerations as the first lens. Love of the profession helps teachers stick up for themselves (and their students) when the power structures leading their schools lose direction. Love is the foundational characteristic of the new operating system.

There are three questions that help guide your path to this foundational characteristic of the new operating system.

  1. Do you love children and each other?
    In the new operating system, an educator will love children and each other. Of course, there will be times when you don’t love everyone, but this only reminds me of a quote by a great guidance counselor friend of mine. He used to say “I love you enough not to like you right now”. Another way of putting it, “I love you as a person, I don’t like what you have done.”. Love of people is a cornerstone belief for those involved in the new operating system.
  2. Are you committed to creating the best learning environment for learners?
    Professionalism in our filed of education manifests itself in creating the best learning environment for all learners…not for some learners, not for the learners you like, or that smell good or have the “right” parents….ALL learners! For teachers that means you create learning experiences that engage and empower learners. For administrators that means creating the conditions that allow teachers to create the best learning environment. Courageous leadership is needed to advocate for the kids. Think of those learners who become disenfranchised and disengaged from learning…it is the education leaders job to make sure they advocate for these vulnerable learners.
  3. How do learners know that you care about them?
    How do learners know you care about them? This is a tough question which I am not going to try to answer for everyone. I will say that to answer this question effectively, an educator must allow themselves to be vulnerable and set ego aside. When you do those two things, you can approach the question with care. In the new operating system, learners know that all adults involved in their learning care about them. After all, the new OS has the learner and the learning experience at the center of the entire learning ecosystem. The system of learning is structured for the learner, not for the adults and the cult of quantification!

The cult of quantification and competition which are hallmarks of the old operating system in education are replaced by love in the new operating system. The new learning ecosystem with the learner and the learning experience at the center of everything shows the system has changed. Actions by the adults in the new OS exhibit love for themselves, their profession, their learners and their community. You can make the change!!

Don’t’ forget to sign up for the education leadership newsletter.

About Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.
View all posts by Tom Butler, Ph.D. →

1 thought on “3 Questions to Change the Cult of Quantification in Schools

  1. How true! Thanks, Tom for reminding us that selecting and sorting and quantifying human beings is ridiculous and futile. Every learner counts and the only way to show that is to love ALL of them.

Leave a Reply