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In Education, Change is the Only Constant

By Bob Fecho

It happened innocently enough. A teacher in one of my university courses about dialogical practice exclaimed, “I worry about where to draw the line with getting my students to question their beliefs. I don’t want to change their minds.”

I paused for a second—really a hesitation—then responded, “How can you teach and not change minds?”

That’s really the core of what we do. In education, we change minds. It’s what parents who adhere to fundamentalist values fear most about public school—that it will change their children.

And they are right. Education is about change. It is not a system of verification or confirmation. It is not a system of inheritance. Nor is it a system of replication. Education is about change—of minds, perspectives, values, understandings, meanings—really all the tools through which we construct reality and identity.

We can’t help but change. Education is never neutral. Learning is never in a vacuum. Instead we learn in contexts shaded by our experiences; peopled by our many cultural selves; inhabited by friends, families, mentors, enemies, and a literal cast of thousands.

Nothing we learn in school comes unburdened of both social and ideological weight. All learning is built from prior experience and pitches us toward future encounters.

The simple act of learning to count opens a universe of numbers to us. Our world is never the same after that. Joining four letters from the alphabet into a word ignites endless possibility even as it also ignites endless change. Imagine the most bare and basic of curriculums and it will exact change upon learners. Imagine a rich curriculum, and you also imagine a Renaissance in the making.

Think of the typical NWP summer institute. Perhaps the most common verb fellows use after completing that rigorous and intensive time frame is change. “I’m changed. I can’t teach the old ways anymore.” “I’ve changed the way I see myself as a writer. I now feel I have the authority to write.” “I thought the institute might change the way I teach, but it actually changed who I am.” Anyone who’s been in an institute has heard some variation of those exclamations, and, I’m sure, many others.

I’m not suggesting that every word we utter or each thought we encounter rocks our world as an SI often does, but they do frequently cause it to wobble. In that wobble lies both uncertainty and possibility. As learners—and all teachers are learners—we must not fear the former and instead must embrace the latter, fully knowing that there is no possibility without uncertainty.

The change that I’m referring to rarely manifests as a 180-degree turnaround. Instead, change can simply be a clearer understanding of what you believe or a realization that other perspectives beyond yours exist. Change such as this doesn’t travel on lightening bolts from the gods. More possibly it creeps up on us, shadows us for a bit, grows comfortable in our shoes, and gradually assumes a stance within us.

Fortunately, we never outgrow our capacity to learn and therefore to change. It encouraged me to know back in 2014 that when educator/essayist Maxine Greene died, news accounts reported that two months before and at age 96 she had served on a dissertation committee. My favorite works by language and literature theorist Mikhail Bakhtin have become the notes and essays written late in his life as he continued to question and refine his theories.

The human existence is one of constant and either acknowledged or unacknowledged change. My hope is to live a life where I acknowledge the vast majority of changes. Whether I do or not, change will still occur.

As a teacher then, I see it my solemn duty to change minds, both those of my students and the one that resides within my own skull. What I should avoid, however, is changing my students’ minds to my mind. I have little inclination to do so, and certainly not the right.

To educate is to initiate an endless mesh of constant change. If such a prospect terrifies you, then you should change your mind about entering any context where learning occurs, especially an NWP summer institute where change is the only constant.

Originally Published at Our NWP

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