In 1975, Neurologist Oliver Sacks saw a hospitalized patient by the name of Jimmy R. (see “Lost Mariner” in wife-hat-2)
When I originally drafted this post, I thought that I would compare reform-driven policymakers to Jimmy R. along the lines that veteran school reformer Deborah Meier had laid out in a series of questions reformers must ask but seldom do:
“Amnesia is dangerous… Getting into the habit of asking questions such as ‘has this ever been tried before?’ ‘what happened?’ ‘is there a pattern here?’ ‘based on what evidence?’ and ‘does it matter?’ is what takes time and patience….”
But on further reflection, my comparison of Jimmy R. to policymakers suffering from memory-loss is too dramatic, too over-the-top; it is an analogy that is, truth be told, flawed. Hurried policymakers have many reasons for not inquiring into similar past reforms and asking the above key questions about charter schools, performance evaluations, Common Core standards, and online learning. Reasons include their certitude about the reform as the solution to the problem, an allergy to disconfirming evidence, career ambition, and simply justifying their decisions by pointing out how different the world is now and that changes have to be made. Ah, there is one more. They even remember a rosier past that they cherished and want for all children.
Still the story of Jimmy R. and his being stuck in a past moment haunts me. The story, I believe, casts a shadow over those who rush to reform schools and are too single-minded to ask essential questions about similar past ventures tried by equally well-intentioned reformers.