We can see that the odd-number solution-proposals are safe. They cannot fail. Logically they are denials of the problem. You can't possibly have the problem if the formal solution is achieved. We don't even need to test them out. But the even-numbered solution-proposals could well fail. They must pass the test of experience to determine their effectiveness.

Real, practical attempts at solving a problem are risky. They can fail. "Formal" solutions are dead certain. If you fail you haven't done it right. But they don't really tell you what to do, because they are merely reformulations of the problem situation in the form of a solution. Formal solutions do not specify tasks which would change the situation. They say little more than "Do something which will solve this problem!" Technical solutions specify tasks. "Do this," they indicate, "and it will cause the change you desire!"

An important function of formal solutions in a political environment is to keep technically knowledgeable people under the control of their appointed leaders. By issuing vague directives, "Motivate at-risk youth!", "Get kids to say no to drugs!" school people are burdened with a mission of unquestionable concern. But the very vagueness of the directive both evades commitment to provide resources and denies school people an objective standard for judging their efforts. The anxiety this conflict produces makes for stressed-out but docile school people.

The first reaction many people have when this distinction between formal and technical solutions is pointed out to them is to claim disbelief that anyone would use "formal" solutions as change proposals. But they are by far the most common. Just listen to anyone on a public platform talk about solutions. He or she cannot be technical, or the audience either won't understand or might think the proposal too risky. The following is a true story.:

A psychologist was sent to a state senate hearing as an expert witness for a local school district. He was to assure the funding agency heads that Special Education funds were being appropriately used. He began by discribing the intake process, the tests used and the assignment procedure. Right in the middle of a sentence, a commissioner interrupted him and said, "Look, Professor, cut out this technical jargon and tell us what is being done!" The psychologist thought a minute then said, "Appropriate tests are being used in an efficient placement process to remedy the problem!" The hearing board was satisfied.

Why do reform movements come and go and schools stay substantially the same? A key reason is that the stakeholders are often not the powerholders. The stakeholders, alone, are often unable to overcome the conflict. Identifying the powerholders is an important step in addressing schooling problems.


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