The Inflexibility of Modern Education


A few weeks ago I saw a stunning image of a spider stuck in amber (see image to the left). Amber, for the unfamiliar, is fossilized tree resin. Tree resin itself is very sticky and can trap an insect easily. And, over countless years, the amber hardens, permanently encasing whatever object remains inside.

The insect in amber is a good analogy to ideas in the educational system. They take hold, get entrenched, and then seem to be permanently encased as unquestioned conventional wisdom – even when it’s clearly time for a change.

I am not one for radical change. When I went into teaching, I was no revolutionary. However, as I taught, I developed a keen sense of what worked and what didn’t. All I really wanted in my classroom was the freedom to pursue what worked with my teens and ditch, at least temporarily, what didn’t. I would’ve been happy to revisit those ideas later, in a different context.

However, where I taught, flexibility wasn’t encouraged. We had an educational philosophy handed to us from the top down and, any deviation, however small, even for the benefit of the students, was a no-no. This, of course, was in addition to the state mandates which were far more onerous and inflexible.

I strongly believe that education is failing a large number of students today because the system itself is extremely inflexible. And, it becomes more so each year as state mandated testing and a pre-planned curriculum further handcuff actual student learning.

Ultimately, it’s not the state legislators or elected (or appointed) leaders that interact with students on a regular basis. It’s not the principals or directors of curriculum either. The teachers see the students each day and are most attuned to their needs and issues (or should be). Yet, which group has the least input in educational philosophy and curriculum? Yep, the teachers.

If we truly want our children to be productive members of society and stop the intellectual freefall of our youth, then our leaders – from federal bureaucrats to school administrators – need to give more input (and flexibility) where it belongs: to the classroom teacher. We are best equipped to try out new ideas, ones that actually work, rather than adhering to theories and mandates that fail, but are nonetheless as entrenched as spiders stuck in amber.

About Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett is an administrator, author, and speaker with a background in teaching. His articles receive over a million hits per year and have appeared in a variety of publications. He is co-owner of the small business Theta Hill, and he also writes for The Popular Teen, The Popular Man and other sites.