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More and more, I am connecting lessons I have learned from Sunday sermons to lessons I am learning about education. Whether it is a message from my senior Pastor Ricky L. Nutt, or from his son, my dear friend and fellow educator, Ricky J. Nutt, I always learn some new way of looking at my faith, my church or life in general. In a recent message, I saw glaring similarities in the ways many organizations mistakenly see themselves as machines. This inevitably makes them prioritize programs over people. Education is no different.
“But we have to, and we have been, begin looking at our church not as a machine, but as an organism. Because if it’s an organism, instead of just replacing a part, you’ll tend to that piece, you won’t just throw it to the side, pass it over, and wait for the next piece to come. You know, you can’t just go on Amazon and [say] let me order a new person to do this. Alright, it doesn’t work like that. I mean we could do it that way, but that wouldn’t be a healthy form of church…if we treated [this] group of people as if you were just a machine.’
- Pastor Ricky J. Nutt, Better Together-Week 1, 13 March 2022
Is Education a Broken Machine?
This powerful message brings up many points I can relate to my experiences in education. From No Child Left Behind, to Common Core, to the “Post Pandemic Purse”, education seems to run like a continuously broken machine that replaces parts instead of dealing with deep rooted issues that are damaging the entire system. Achievements gaps, inequities between schools, mental health and so many other issues are parts of such major problems. Instead of looking at the actual people involved, policymakers continually develop programs in a failed effort to provide quick fixes to deep-rooted systemic issues. We look at students as statistics and data instead of individuals.
Simultaneously we expect teachers to miraculously right wrongs that have been perpetuated in education for generations. I fear some educators have seen so many programs come and go, that we may have even become “numb” to the problems that stare us in the face on the daily. The problems are so prevalent, that they could be compared to injuries, and education to a body that has been injured over and over again.
Or is Education a Damaged Body?
In his sermon, Pastor Ricky J. also used an analogy of an injury that had been plaguing him for years:
“I decided to have surgery…they told me they were going to give me a nerve block…So it lessened the pain, there was a numbness there…What’s happening [is] there is no circulation there and that nerve is having difficulty communicating with other parts of the body so that the rest of my body is not actually very aware of that smaller piece. And you don’t notice it until you actually start paying attention to it cause it's really easy to miss.”
Many schools have metaphorical injuries in the form of low test scores, high dropout rates, low college admittance rates, or other issues. Too often we use programs to address and attempt to fix these problems. The fact of the matter is, our education system badly needs surgery that actually gets to the roots of these issues. Instead, policymakers and district leaders throw quick fixes at these issues. These act as the same nerve block Pastor Ricky J. was metaphorically referring to. As a result, the body often becomes numb to major issues that no program nor any amount of money has been able to fix so far.
Let's Look at Education as an Organism
Pastor Ricky J. summed up his sermon this way: “And so we have to stop seeing [the church] as a machine where all the people help to feed the programs, but seeing it as an organism… are we prioritizing programs or are we prioritizing people.”
Moving from the mindset of looking at a system as a machine to an organism represents a drastic change from the status quo. Education is an organism with many interdependent parts. We should view each part as essential to the success of this system. We must value the humanity of each administrator, teacher, counselor, paraprofessional, student, parent and community member.
The importance of each stakeholder is imperative to the overall success of the organism of education. We have to see all of these integral parts as essential to the whole system of education. Let's view each one as an actual person instead of a piece that we can replace. Only then will the system have any chance at functioning properly. We need to move beyond quick fixes for education, to studying and caring for the health of each integral part. We need to rid ourselves of the practice of using programs and one-time money to fix this broken system. This begins with prioritizing people over programs.
The machine of education can no longer be seen as such. Each injury that is part of the system can no longer be numbed with quick fix programs programs or temporary money. And we can no longer continue to prioritize programs over people. So, what is the solution? Look to teachers who are the experts in education. We are the ones who can not only shake up education, but completely break and remake it. Together we can reshape the system into a healthy organism that will serve the needs of all stakeholders.
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