In response to my Pondering Checker blog, Bryant, Mike P, and Lynette all asked: What would it take beyond solving "Checker's 8 Barriers?"
I don't know. I've been pondering that for 15 years now. If I don't change professions soon, I may be stuck pondering this all my life.
I'd say this.
I believe there are two problems hidden in plain sight. I won't say in this blog what they are.
Each is a largely unappealing problem. Few K-12 policy types enjoy thinking about these. Everyone touches on them a bit, but quickly shuffles off to more appealing-to-think-about problems.
For purposes of this blog, can we agree that in life there are problems of this nature? “Elephant in the living room” type?
Which I did at the suggestion of my colleague Laura. Michael Specter wrote a great article in the New Yorker: “What Money Can Buy.” It’s about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's work on malaria. From the article:
There has always been this sense of malaria fatalism. There has been the idea that this is just part of Africa and being African.
The do-gooders have always wanted to find a breakthrough cure or vaccine. That is an appealing problem for many people to tackle.
Gates learned that: 30-50% of malaria victims could be saved with…drum roll…nets sprayed with insecticide. Nets!
But nobody wanted to work hard to implement this solution.
Nets were very unappealing to experts in the field. Why? Their expertise was drug development. Not nets.
The elephant in the living room: how to deal with logistics of sprayed nets. Lots of net puzzles. How to make em, get em, spray em, train people to use em, research things like how to make the spray last longer and nets last longer, figure how to handle dead bugs lying around, find ways to solve people’s complaints (smell, feeling caged, whatever).
The experts knew nets mattered for 20 years. But nobody really worked on it.
A Tanzanian health entomologist said:
I am sitting here watching my hair go gray and waiting for those nets. Every year a million more kids die. A decade ago, they were saying “Let people die; there is nothing we can do.” Then Gates came along and he said this is not acceptable.
Do the nets solve everything? No!
“Only” 30 to 50% of the problem. Do we continue to look for cures and vaccines? Yes! Should we? Yes.
This is an example of a key problem hidden in plain sight.
I submit there are 2 key problems hidden in plain sight, puzzles we are bad at solving. Two elephants in the room. If not tackled, eroding Checker's 8 Barriers won't get us far by themselves, though I add once again I am entirely in favor of lifting those barriers, and lifting these barriers are essential (but insufficient -- see the average charter school) to ultimately solving these 2 Elephants.
Robert Pondiscio and E.D. Hirsch, for example, believe the Elephant is: typical curriculum is unbelievably dumb. I 100% agree it's a problem and perhaps only disagree about sizing: it's more of a hippo. Plus half the issue is whether it's in a box (i.e., ease of use for teachers).
Do you think there is an Elephant? If so, what?