“The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him…

…the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust.” These are the words of Henry Lewis Stimson, a former US Secretary of State. Recently, I visited a high school in Connecticut that personifies a culture of trust. As a “trusted learning community” students are treated with respect and they rise to that expectation. This environment is a stark contrast to what we see playing out in the so many places in education today. The predominant culture of a test centric, fear driven agenda is the antithesis of trust.

The current wave of educational reform profoundly embodies such widespread mistrust throughout all levels of the educational milieu. Part of this mistrust is seen in the never-ending quest to quantify all manner of elements that measure and capture educational qualities for both teachers and students. It is not an unscientific proposition to suggest that there is more to what goes into the equation that looks at a quality educational experience.

Pascal once stated, “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” We must balance the hard evidence of data driven decision making with the common sense wisdom driven by core values and beliefs that exist both before and after the advent of any new technology, or policy implementation. Perhaps the rationale for balance is readily seen in the dysfunction of where policy makers find themselves today. More well informed, and thoughtful responses to the challenges that beset not only the educational establishment but also the larger society as a whole is warranted. Government shutdowns, parents angry about excessive standardized testing and the like, all fit a narrative reflecting an assault to our sensibilities.

We live in that “nano-second,” stimulus response environment, seeking a list of bullets and sound bites to guide the information overwhelm that washes ashore each and everyday. Bereft of the time for contemplation, and lacking the white space needed to exercise our judgment we find ourselves adrift in a never ending quest for the next fix that promises to improve upon the last best perceived solution to our problems.

More and more we see the evidence of discord—an unsustainable process of arriving at solutions to vexing issues. Taken from the Hopi language, Koyaanisquatsi means “life out of balance.” Events and issues both within and outside of the school walls suggest we are in the midst of a very unbalanced way of living our lives. We yearn for a way forward that not only makes sense, but also provides us with the tools and means to thrive in a new landscape.

The dialogue which surrounds issues of how we effectively meet the challenges of today and tomorrow appear to us in loud, visceral, and at times very harsh tones. We worry about bullying children, yet they bear witness to adult bullying perhaps at a level never before seen. Avenues of communication appear at the touch of a finger from all directions with the sounds of ring tones, appearing in larger than life visuals at a rate that is often indigestible if not overwhelming.

It is without question in my mind that we in education are experiencing an unhealthy and unbalanced set of practices and protocols that drive us in a direction, which leaves both the hearts and minds of young children, as well as older students, in a precarious position for future growth. In short we are driven to distraction.

When a physician candidly admits that having to check numerous electronic boxes to comply with the latest mandate in medicine designed to become “more efficient,” and as a result he has less time to have conversations with patients something is wrong.

When teachers and students act and react to learning situations as though they are following the prompt on a monitor, following the bouncing ball until it arrives at a number so we can score where we rank, who is effective, and who is failing we have sacrificed important qualities in the quest for true understanding.

Lost in the mechanical, “techno fix culture” we become susceptible to profiteers, charlatans, and modern day snake oil salesmen. Within education there is no substitute for a teacher or coach who exercises good judgment, able to adjust and modify the next move based on the conditions in front of her.

The heart does have reasons of which reason knows nothing. It is well beyond the time to listen to our hearts to make better decisions with our heads so we can promote the beauty and vitality of trusted learning communities throughout our state and nation.

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