What is Motivating Educational Reform?

For years, Teachers and Administrators have tried to come together to “fix” the Educational System. Their problems are moving targets, constantly changing and usually growing in difficulty. From the bottom up, they have done everything possible to ensure the proper education of their students.

Government officials have also done their best to “fix” these problems from the top down. As the problems grow in difficulty, they seek ways to standardize everything so as to attempt to “level the playing field” for students and teachers. In making things as equal as possible, they try to diminish distortion and achieve academic progress for all students.

These two groups are fighting for the same purpose, but their motivations differ as far as the east is from the west. For that reason, the “moving target” problems remain just as difficult to hit for each group. Until both groups come to a consensus on what their foundational motives are, Educational Reform efforts will fail due to a lack of solidarity within the hierarchy of the system.

Through the Lens of the Government:
Throughout the 20th century, The United States Educational system was a rogue of pedagogical experimentation. Since not much was expected from such a young nation, we had little to lose and everything to gain. We were new, risky, and creative.

With creative practices and innovation, we flourished during the Industrial Revolution. We put a man on the moon, became a technological superpower for the world, and skyrocketed ourselves into prestige as a youthful world power.

At the turn of the 21st century, however, other countries that had nothing to loose and everything to gain began showing signs of life. They started to flourish much like we did and are now passing us in academic success.

Our Government has taken notice. Now, they are looking to change our Educational system so that we as a nation will remain an economic stronghold and flourish once again. They are motivated by the power that our students can offer to the future of America.

To ensure that this happens, they look to the logical proof of numbers. Their theory is that if they create a comprehensible standardized test and a means by which students can achieve success on these tests, the skeleton of the Educational system will become firm enough to stand on its own power. It will then be the Teachers jobs to add the meat and organs to the body so as to give it life. Once this creation is able to live on its own, it will carry America on its back to new heights, to new power, and to new sources of economic progress.

Through the Lens of the Educator:
The pressure to “follow suit” with the Government expectations is written into our contracts, but not into our hearts. From the top down, we are expected to appease laws such as No Child Left Behind, even when there is little evidence that suggests its effectiveness for our students. While we struggle to ensure their proper education, we are caught in a crossfire of what is expected of us from the hand that feeds us, and what our own motivations are to serve our students faithfully.

For an Educator, our motivation is almost in polar opposition to that of our Government providers. Ours is a motivation of charitable faith as opposed to power retention. We seek the well-being of our students first, and then we hope that our lessons will impact their decisions as future leaders of our Nation.

For that reason, our motivation to teach becomes two-fold: Through learning, we want our students to become economically stable in their futures as well as main characters in their personal ongoing process of enlightenment.

As proof of this, we stress their need for educational advancement as a means to better their lives as well as the lives of others. We teach them that education is the pathway towards economic stability, but that this should never be their single motivation to learn. We show them that their studies are the means towards enlightenment, towards understanding themselves in society, and towards owning their ideas through a personal creativity that is characterized by their very selves. In other words, money becomes secondary to their personal journey towards understanding the truths of the world.

Educators seek permission to teach in this way as opposed to teaching so that our students can pass a test. We search for freedom in our pedagogical practices so that our students can experience the liberty that true teaching can offer them. While we continue on in our search, we find many closed doors that have been locked from the inside. Those with power, both Educators and policy makers, have the keys to open these doors, but we refuse to open them because of one primary reason: fear.

A Common Motivation: Fear
Fear is the one characteristic besides student success that both the Government and Teachers share. It is what keeps both sides from unlocking the doors. Sadly, it is servile fear; like a student has for an overly harsh principal, which dominates each group. The Government fears loosing control of the Educational system and its powerful attributes that wil help sustain the Nation’s future. Meanwhile, teachers feel that they will not be able to offer the best for their students. They fear that if they go against protocol, they will loose their jobs. They fear that their failure to “speak up” will ultimately result in the failure of their students. Clearly, each group is subject to fear based on what motivates them.

Progress by Fear:
Educational Reform, from this point on, will be defined by fear. But that doesn’t mean that fear itself cannot be seen in a positive light. If Government officials and Educators decide to open the doors of dialogue, the present servile fear will change into a different, more profound form that will lead to eventual progress. This new fear will be filial, like an obedient child who fears his devoted father, or like a successful student fears disappointing his respected teacher.

To best establish this connotation-less, filial fear, we must establish a “new school” that is based not on the logic of numbers and standardized tests, but on pedagogical initiatives that have the attitude of the teacher as its foundation.

In A Teacher’s Life Journey, Antonio Botana FSC, reminds us that if this “new school” is established, it must be teacher driven. He stresses that all Teachers must place upon themselves consistent reflective behaviors that “must open the spectrum of possibilities to which the teacher must direct his commitment.”

Botana then states that these behaviors should work in several directions:

Toward the teacher himself. He will strive to improve:
– his professional competence, his continuing formation in the various subjects that he teaches;
– the genuineness of his witness, the coherence of his life with his words, his commitment to justice, charity, respect for persons…;
– his accessibility, his lack of self-interest, his presence in activities…;
– the style of his dealings with others, his relations to them.

Toward the students:
– an extensive knowledge of them as individuals, openness, dialogue, an interest in their problems;
– a personalized “accompaniment”, which is a process in education that calls for constancy and dedication, personal guidance;
– adaptation of the programs and techniques of learning to the actual possibilities and needs of the students, investigation into the formative elements that are most appropriate and the techniques that are most effective.

Toward the educational community:
– in order to promote a spirit of solidarity and collaboration;
– a willingness to share responsibilities
– dialogue and cooperation with the other teachers, the parents, the administration.”

Botana finishes saying that “concrete initiates will flow from [these].” In other words, when Teachers consistently reflect in these ways, their lessons will satiate their students craving from knowledge, their students will achieve success, and our Government will not only trust us to make decisions, they will be proud of what we have been able to achieve.

When the pressure of “teaching for the test” is replaced with a Teacher-driven, “new school” that is based on pedagogical initiatives, the aforementioned reflective practices become a catalyst for academic success in schools.

Final Thought:
Since the turn of the 21st century, the Government has played the role of overprotective controlist that teachers have tried to defy, not the dedicated father that their teachers wish to please. As a result, Educators have been torn in two between following the rules and following their hearts.

When we focus our Educational Reforms on the individuals who directly serve our students everyday, we will finally be able to hit the “moving target” problems in Education by moving along with them. No longer will the Government need to aim from long distances; they will have their highly qualified, constantly reflective Teachers take shots from point blank range.

For that reason, I urge all who read this to look deeply within themselves and decide, what is truly motivating our Educational Reforms? Is it Government policy or Educational pedagogy? Is it servile fear or filial fear? Is it economic advancement or intellectual enlightenment?

The answer to all of these questions can be found behind the closed doors of dialogue. Teachers, with clean conscience and in good faith, please knock. Government officials, with open ear and open mind, please open the door.

Botana, Antonio, A Teacher’s Life Journey, MEL Bulletin 8/9. Found online on 3/4/11 at

1 thought on “What is Motivating Educational Reform?

  1. GAE,Probably one of the most sober, concise overviews of the state of things in the classroom today. Well done.Regrettably, these same words could have been written a generation ago, two generations ago, even a millenium ago, and still be valid in the context of the time.The answer is not, as Bob would say, "blowing in the wind". It is in our hearts and corresponding actions…Our hearts. Our actions.P. Suave

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