The DeHavilland Blog

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Creative destruction

I have great fun playing Legos with my four-year old. Using the pieces from various sets that we’ve thrown into one big bin, we’re able to build lots of cool vehicles, machines, forts, and more based on where our imaginations take us. (And as you may tell from this passage, he’s not the only one enjoying himself. :-)

But what always surprises me is how quickly he wants to destroy our handiwork and start over. Me, I’d like to play a while with our cool new vehicles. But Thomas would rather tear it all down and start over as soon as possible.

It frustrated me at first, but then I realized how much learning is going on. He’s not interested in building something per se – he’s interested in learning how to build. His vehicles are not ends in themselves, they’re a means to an end – just one more lesson as he perfects his craft. With every vehicle he’s learning what worked and what didn’t, and plowing that newfound knowledge into the next vehicle.

Suppose our education system was like that? We try lots of things (small schools, tech-based instruction, project-based learning – the list goes on and one), evaluate the results, and tear those systems down to create new ones. In other words, we stop trying to tweak the first structure we ever built (and our schools qualify for that description in a number of areas) and instead work with lots of different models, churning towards ever-better models as we learn what worked and what didn’t along the way.

The counterargument, of course, is that it would require taking children from what we know works and possibly submitting them to a system that won’t be successful. But the truth is, our current system – the one originally developed hundreds of years ago – has no basis in empirical research. So why not start experimenting, generate some hard evidence of what works and what doesn’t, and use the principle of creative destruction to begin building better schools?

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