Thursday, October 2, 2008

Is This Educational Malpractice?

I’m a new blogger and I have a writer’s block. It is not the “block” one typically associates with blank paper. It is, in fact, the opposite. This block is like trying to stream live video on very low bandwidth. The video stream of my mind pushes so much data into the narrow “pipeline” of my keyboard that the path clogs and the hourglass of “wait time” begins to spin. You see, I’m extremely concerned about the compelling need to reform our nation’s schools. Our national economic security depends on bringing our schools into the 21st century. In my small circle of influence, I have championed the progression of the 21st century skills movement for 25 years. I became passionate about the need for school reform with the first national call for change - A Nation at Risk in 1983. I have followed and reacted to a plethora of urgent “change mandates” for a quarter of a century now. I’m clearly focused on the need to upgrade schools and I’m serious about it. Now, given a blog forum, I’m eager to “push” every challenge and each potential solution into the blogosphere and I’m limited by one text stream!

I’ve decided to “beat the block” by letting the stream flow with one of the most thought-provoking statements I’ve heard in my experience with school reform efforts. It happened just last week as I attended a conference of instructional support specialists representing school systems throughout the U.S. During an administrative briefing, the topic shifted to our schools’ need for leadership in implementing the 21st century skills. The speaker, armed with data and rationale, made the challenge real. Her admonition: “Failure to implement the 21st century skills in our schools constitutes malpractice.” Simple. Bold. Clear. Finally…the bottom line!

Malpractice, according to is defined as:

“… a professional's misconduct or failure to use adequate levels of care, skill or diligence in the performance of the professional's duties that causes harm to another. In order for malpractice to be actionable, injury, loss or damage must be suffered by the person who retained the professional's services, or those otherwise entitled to benefit from or rely upon the professional's services.”

How many times have I walked through schools and left with a heart heavy for the students who are being harmed by omission of the 21st century skills? Too many children have passed before my experience deprived of opportunities to learn academic content in relevant, contemporary contexts. Too many, who are entitled to a 21st century education, sit passively in rows at the expense of learning to self-direct, innovate, collaborate and demonstrate responsibility for their own learning. I’m beyond being perplexed at the mindset that stubbornly determines to “beautifully prepare students for a world that no longer exists.” (Eric Hoffer) I find myself aligned with a brilliant woman who had the courage to call it what it is: MALPRACTICE.

I Googled “malpractice” as I began writing this blog entry. A lengthy list of links to “medical malpractice” appeared. I looked around with trepidation as site after site defined malpractice as “negligence by omission of accepted standards of practice that cause injury to others.” I can’t help but wonder how long our profession can sustain malpractice. How long will stakeholders forgive institutional tolerance for “omission” of 21st century skills? After twenty-five years of public policy, reform and change mandates pleading for upgrades to schooling, I can’t imagine continued patience. I suggest that the day of “educational malpractice” is upon us. Let every educator at every level examine “omission” of 21st century skills in their own practice. This is serious. Upgrading the seriousness of the 21st century challenge might be just what is needed to upgrade education's sense of urgency.


  1. You are right on target! You said exactly what I have been trying to articulate for a year now. I am only in my 5th year of teaching, but I am truly passionate about seeing change happen in education. In fact, I blogged about this just this week! With your permission I would like to link back to your post as evidence to help me back my argument.

  2. Hi, Beth,
    I love following the Nebraska Change Agent and also enjoy your Twitter posts! You are welcome to link to this posting. Love your vision, passion and tenacity!

  3. Just what needed to be said! In this country we have too many obstacles and not enough facilitations. Even in schools supposedly pursuing 21C skills, the barriers remain. A friend found yesterday that a 1:1 school will not allow home laptops in the classroom, only school-bought (which require a $50 rental fee some homes cannot afford). We seem to be focusing on administration rather than learning!

  4. Hi, Britt,
    When I focus on the barriers, I get hives! You are so RIGHT in noting that the school leaders can best help teachers implement 21st century learning by advocating and acting to remove barriers! As education adopts a genuine commitment to 21st century learning, ALL roles will CHANGE. Leaders will work to reduce barriers rather than enforcing them. But...that is another blog topic!

  5. Hi, Devil's Advocate here. The definition you said you found on page after page is “negligence by omission of accepted standards of practice that cause injury to others.”

    The very type of teaching techniques that you're talking about (and which I am certainly a fan of) are not the accepted standard of practice at this time. Frankly, i find this kind of rhetoric disturbingly incendiary, as you're basically saying "Hey, all you teachers out there, you're doing it wrong!" And not just wrong, but you're saying they are actually doing harm with their actions.

    I'm all for being passionate about the position you're for, but I think you do a great disservice to your own position by, from what I see so far, mostly jut attacking the position of others. I, personally, think that I would like to see you do more positive advocacy for your own position and less attacking the opposed position. So far it seems to me you're complaining about people standing in the way of these skills you think need to be taught, but so far you haven't explained exactly what those skills are and why they're so essential.

    I'll keep an eye on my feed reader for future posts. :)

  6. It is sad that much of what needs to be done is to really teach students how to learn, unlearn, relearn and find joy in their learning. The only way to do that is what your post is all about. Many teachers will not even do this themselves. I am sorry, that is malpractice. Other professions keep up with changes in practice that are necessary.

  7. Hi, Louise,
    You recognize that most of today's students will learn and unlearn content as knowledge increases exponentially over time. How fortunate for your students that you value teaching them how to learn. Thank you for this insightful comment.