I had a wonderful opportunity this week (through my job–have I mentioned how much I love my job???) to attend a lecture given by educational researcher (and blogger) Pedro de Bruyckere about the science of teaching and learning. His lecture was themed mostly about educators can use research to inform best classroom practices and help teachers and schools create environments where more students learn effectively. What I loved the most about his talk was his consistent theme (based on his meta-analysis of educational research): there are no simple “best” solutions because everything about learning is more complicated than it seems.
I have tried for years as an educator to explain (poorly) what Dr. de Bruyckere has spent a career researching. If you are a teacher (or work directly with teachers), I recommend his book, The Ingredients for Great Teaching. (And if you are outside of K-12, but interested in education as a parent, citizen, policy maker, or university person, I recommend Urban Myths About Learning and Education). It was so exciting (and quite overwhelming) to see my beliefs about educational practice confirmed by research. And he made me realize why one or two strategies I used regularly as a classroom teacher did NOT work well and how to fix them (wow–positive bias confirmation and critical self-reflection in one lecture–that’s rockstar level teaching right there!).
Warning: I’m stepping on a soap box here!
One of the most difficult aspects of being a public educator is this: The lack of respect for or understanding of education as a uniquely skilled profession. People keep looking for simple solutions to complex human problems; educators (and learners) often know how to solve some of these problems, but no one ever asks our opinions–they just hand down mandates to “fix” us. Sometimes it’s from the business world, sometimes from psychology, lately from neuroscience research.
All of these areas can inform educational practice, but the analogies are limited in their effectiveness. Applied too rigidly, these have caused some of the worst trends in public education (too much standardized testing, too little emphasis on content of value, too much lecturing traumatized kids to develop some ‘grit’, etc.)
Ultimately, education is what happens inside an individual person in the context of a community of learners (usually, a school, with educators).
Thus, education is fundamentally different from fields that study individual processes or systems without looking at the interactions between the two. Complexity doesn’t make the field of education research “soft” or invalid–it makes the field INTERESTING and CHALLENGING.
Furthermore, failure is NOT an option in education. Working with kids is so very, very important. The need is so very, very great. There are not enough resources in schools (in communities, in homes) to fill the needs of our children. There should be. There could be. But there are not. It’s not just money, it’s allocation of resources. I see those charts about the amount of money (increased) compared to test scores (decreased) over the last 20 years that imply that more money doesn’t educate students any better, but money could pay for lower class sizes, for more support personnel, better technology, more social services for kids and families, more books, better facilities, more meaningful professional development for educators, more arts and music in schools, more individualized educational pathways.
Instead, a lot of the money is going to paying for more testing resources and remediation for those tests or other accountability and legal measures. This ends up shorting kids on services that might actually fill some of their needs and allow them to learn more of what is tested. It’s a sad loop.
Ok, I’ll step off that soapbox now.
How does this all relate to personal finance? I see similarities because personal finance is so very personal. I love reading PF blogs because they offer a variety of perspectives on seemingly simple concepts that are fraught with complex interactions. And it’s important to remember that if someone tells you it’s “simple” and “easy” in a complicated system, they’re probably trying to sell you something. However, many of the core principles and “classic” advice does work, just not always in the same way it did in the past.