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Education Inertia

Change isn’t easy. We all know this from some personal experience. The deeper that things are engrained in our lives, the harder it is to nudge them around. Habits that we’ve held for years need constant awareness, focus, and effort to change them. Attempting to alter long-held traditions will be met with great resistance.

In Physics, an object’s resistance to the change of its present state of motion is called its inertia. The more mass an object has, the more inertia it has. So, a truck requires a lot of energy to inch it forward from rest, and it takes a lot of energy to bring that same truck to a stop. It is very resistant to changing its state of motion. A bicycle, however, is much easier to move around. This is Newton’s First Law of motion or the law of inertia (follow the link for a deeper explanation if you want—I tried to keep my physics talk to a minimum 😎). 

Inertia… This Way

Newton's first law of motion, the law of inertia can be thought of regarding education. Our long-held ideas about education make things harder to change the present state of things. It's time to let go!

I was doing some research the other day—seeking better systems for educating our youth and ourselves (tagline!)—when an image popped into my mind along with this concept of inertia. 

I was looking through the requirements, by State, to graduate from High School. If you live in New York, what is required to graduate? North Carolina? Within a few minutes, it was apparent that the different requirements for each State were all pretty similar. Some have looser specifications than others, but they are mostly the same—this many years of math, that many years of social studies, etc. As I was reviewing this and a few other things, I was struck with the inertia of it all; the inertia of education. 

Our education system, even just the very idea of education, is rooted in decades—if not centuries—of traditions, beliefs, experiences, and expectations. If the topic of education comes up, everyone has preconceived notions of what that means to them. The kicker is that most, if not all, of those notions are to replicate the things we’ve learned in the way we learned them. Our ideas around education are rooted in personal experience, and most of our experiences are very similar.

Education Inertia

The education inertia is made of a combination of all our long-held ideas and beliefs, traditions and experiences. They all contribute to making real change a major challenge. First, we need to shed all we believe, and then we can begin to find new pathways.

Looking at the state standards, it was clear that there is a general acceptance of many ideas like subjects to be taught, grade levels, and testing. I saw the “mass” of these ideas and beliefs about education coalescing into a giant ball rolling along. The “education inertia” is high, meaning the education system is highly resistant to change. This is not because we lack the technology or the brains. It’s because of all the stuff we are holding onto and contributing to the “mass”-ive ball I described.

A Simple Solution…

To give this giant ball of ideas and beliefs less inertia, we just need to take away some of its mass. If we are going to reach a point where we can truly make education better, different, reach new heights none of us have previously thought possible, we need to let go of our preconceptions. Drop them like chunks of matter. Shed the fat. With every hard-and-fast rule we drop in our minds about this topic, the size of the giant rolling ball decreases. Things get easier to shift, to move around. It loses inertia. 

It’s my goal with this blog to find alternative methods, solutions, and ideas around education. Seeking better systems, right? To do this, I’ve left no part of the education system as sacred. I’m willing to question every long-standing tradition, belief, or standard. And, I want you to do the same. To make this easier, I aim to show you more examples of people and systems that break the traditional mold. If we see that someone didn’t follow the system and came out better than ok, it breaks the rule that a particular approach is necessary or more beneficial. Once the rule breaks down, it no longer contributes to the inertia of our education system. 

As I said, change isn’t easy, but I think we can do it, and the first step forward is searching within ourselves. This might just be the hardest thing we have to overcome. Therefore, it’s a good thing we’re not alone in this! I look forward to breaking some rules, shedding some fat, and finding new pathways… together

If you’re interested in making our education system better for yourself, for a loved one, or just care about our students, then…

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