When it comes to new ideas, I have a bad habit that I intend to keep. I debunk my own ideas…at least I try. An idea that doesn’t hold up to a good debunking has questionable value. I might spend weeks or months unpacking a new educational idea. During this time, I’m likely to research it, experiment with it, and socialize it. When I share the idea with others and it is under scrutiny, that is when the most important work begins. Any idea that can’t hold up under critique isn’t an idea worth spreading. This doesn’t mean that we need widespread consensus to move ahead. Great ideas can be unpopular. That may speak to their lack of marketability, but it doesn’t speak to their truth and value. As Henry Ibsen is credited as saying, “The majority is always wrong; the minority is rarely right.
Even when we decide to devote significant time on an idea, I’m convinced that the more noble path is to persistently subject it to critique. I’d rather abandon a wrong idea after a decade than persist with it for a lifetime. Sometimes we conclude that an idea is downright wrong, deeply flawed, or even destructive. More often, the practice of persistent debunking gives us perspective. It leads back to a phrase that you’ll find throughout my blog, “affordances and limitations.” To the extent that an idea is a convention, technique or invention: it has benefits, things that it amplifies, or things that it makes possible. It also has limitations: downsides, things that it muffles, or things that it makes less likely or impossible. While we are tempted to turn a blind eye to the limitations of our favorite ideas, resisting that temptation is important. That is what allows us to refine the ideas. It is also what gives us the wisdom to discard others.
In 1949, Richard Weaver wrote what is now a classic text called, Ideas Have Consequences. In the 4th chapter, Weaver warns of the dangers of egotism, making the self the measure of that which is valuable. With egotism, people become increasingly bent toward what benefits oneself instead of what is true. People stop valuing the pursuit of truth and find themselves content fighting for and defending the preservation of self or one’s group. It is less about the affordances and limitations of an idea and more about the personal benefits and risks of the idea. How does it help me? How does it support my goals? How does it assist our group or organization in achieving its goals or meetings its benchmarks? Power becomes more important than truth or goodness.
When this happens around educational innovation and entrepreneurship, we find ourselves defending educational ideas because they are ours or because they benefit us, not because they represent what is best for learners. We embrace ideas because we enjoy them more than because they help us pursue truth, goodness, and beauty. K-12 teachers and University professors defend ideas that protect their preferred conditions or maintain the status que. Educational leaders defend ideas that grant them influence. Entrepreneurs or educational business owners protect ideas that grant adequate or substantial financial gain. Professional organizations and educational associations defend their agenda. We establish an educational system where power and personal or affiliate gain trump the pursuit of truth and goodness. This is not to suggest that we should completely disregard self-preservation and financial gain, but a field like education is one that demands a higher calling along these other realities.
As I consider how to think and act in such a context, I remain convinced that there is value in continued innovation; but innovation informed by a blend of humility, relentless analysis of affordances and limitations, and a willingness to sacrifice power and personal gain in the pursuit of truth and goodness in education, truth and goodness not only in terms of educational aims, but also means.