Not your average education reformer

Education | A classroom teacher’s book offers wise and prudent solutions
by Russ Pulliam
Posted on Thursday, July 21, 2016, at 2:34 pm

Middle school English teacher Andrew K. Milton worries about well-intentioned educational reform theories messing up what happens in the actual classroom. Hence the title of his book: The Normal Accident Theory of Education: Why Reform and Regulation Won’t Make Schools Better (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014).

Milton, who teaches in the Seattle area, identifies better parenting as the best education reform: parents reading aloud to their children, talking to them during the pre-school years, giving them love and encouragement and discipline, recognizing them as being made in the image of God yet in need of correction.

Education reformers don’t say much about this challenge because it is hard to offer ways to get parents motivated and ready for one of the toughest tasks in life—being an effective mom or dad. Opponents of education reform also don’t know how to address a family-rooted cultural and spiritual problem that escapes government regulation.

Milton also has a healthy skepticism about utopian national remedies, such as the Common Core curriculum or a computer in every student’s lap. He is skeptical about wiring classrooms with the latest technology. “Electronic distraction saps performance,” he noted. In other words, don’t put your trust in princes or in the latest app.

Milton also has a healthy skepticism about utopian national remedies, such as the Common Core curriculum or a computer in every student’s lap.

“All the technology—and the complications it generates—does not necessarily make for a better learning environment or student performance,” he argued. “An entertainment model of education is treacherous, and social media engagement is risky.”

Milton looks outside the box in some other ways, including same-sex classrooms for middle school. He recommends local standards for teacher evaluations, assuming that what’s best in an urban school might not be pertinent in a suburban setting.

The book is aimed at a broad secular audience. But Milton, a member of a Presbyterian Church in America congregation, works from several Christian assumptions about reform without referring to the Bible directly. His book is an example of common grace, as he gives readers wisdom and prudence without necessarily footnoting the original source.

Milton’s book is unusual in another way: Classroom teachers seldom make time to write books.

Milton also offers a balanced skepticism about education reform, which tends to be oversold with simple solutions. Like supervising teenagers, education reform looks easy until you are doing it.

Russ Pulliam

Russ is a columnist for The Indianapolis Star, the director of the Pulliam Fellowship, and a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.

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