Sunday, June 20, 2010

If I had a hammer

Suppose I asked you to join two pieces of wood, two 2 by 4's, three feet long.  I need you to join the boards at each end and in the middle.  I give you a hammer and you walk to the right end of the boards where you find a nail already started.  Somewhat tentatively you take several swings before finally driving the nail in.

You take a step to the left and at the mid-point of the boards you find another nail.  More confidently, you take a couple of really good swings and drive the nail home. Finally, you take another step to the left and at the left end of the board you find ..... a screw.

My question to you is a simple one. Is the hammer broken?

The obvious answer is no and most people would be smart enough to either get a screwdriver or replace the screw with a nail. A few truly creative, out-of-the-box thinkers, such as myself, would simply pound in the screw with the hammer, although I don't recommend it for finish work.  (Oh please, that revelation didn't really surprise you, did it?)

Still, there are those that must bring work to a complete halt so they may blame the task master, the hammer, the screw or the over-reaching federal government seeking to nationalize the construction industry. 

It is this question, is the hammer broken, that I come back to again and again as the battle over educational reform rages on.  For far too many people, the current educational system can't merely be a tool that successfully met the challenges of the past, but is not design to meet our new requirements.  It must be broken and someone must be to blame.  However, as Gerry Weinberg reminds us in his wonderful book The Secrets of Consulting:
The chances of solving a problem decline the closer you get to finding out who was the cause of the problem.  (Spark's Law of Problem Solution)
The challenge then, is for us interested in the education of the IT professionals of the future to wade into the debate with our required outcomes in hand.  We must continue to press for a discussion of the what and why of education, while steadfastly refusing to be drawn into the debate of how and who.  Most of all, we must resist the temptation to play the blame game.