More on Incremental Change in Education

In January, I (Clive) wrote about Mary Kennedy and her stress on incremental change in education – as opposed to “bold” innovation. Since then, I’ve come across an excellent book that takes a similar stance: Enlightenment 2.0 (HarperCollins, 2014) by Joseph Heath, a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto. Though decidedly progressive himself, Heath writes in support of Edmund Burke’s advocacy of cumulative improvement, the rationale for which he paraphrases as follows:

“If everyone insists on reinventing everything, we’ll never get anywhere, simply because no one is smart enough to understand all the variables and grasp all of the reasons that things are done exactly the way they are.” (p. 88)

Hence the title of his book: this is a second take on an “enlightenment” approach to social reform, one that builds on past practice in just the manner Kennedy recommends. But Heath raises a crucial question:

“[O]nce we acknowledge this, is the only alternative to fall back into an uncritical acceptance of tradition? Or is it possible to use this insight as the basis for a more successful form of progressive politics?” (p. 83)

I’ll continue to read the book and let you know about Heath’s alternative (that’s a promise!). Meanwhile, one solution that occurs to me in the education field is to give teachers more voice, so they can share their practices and fine-tune them. More opportunities for teacher dialogue are needed: in school settings, during PD events, in university classes, etc. In this way, teachers can help each other tinker with how they do things, rather than having some “expert” come in and tell them they’ve got it all wrong. There’s a place for outside input, but it should be used critically – and incrementally.

Teaching, teacher education, incremental change, Joseph Heath, Enlightenment 2.0.

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