As a career high school teacher for three decades, I have been constantly immersed in educational change. There always seemed to be a need for change because apparently the status quo never adequately met the needs of the school community. Educational fads would come and go, along with the accompanying educational consultants hawking their wares. Curriculum and instruction always seemed in a state of flux, as change agents quickly moved to the next panacea. My problem is that after all these years, I have the sad sense that things never really did change. As I leave public school teaching, I find my high school as tradition-bound as it was thirty years ago. Students are tracked, teachers direct student activity and transmit knowledge, and students sit in rows. Did all of the reforms fail because of our lack of professional efficacy, or is education, as a social system, truly impervious to any substantial change?
At first the uneasiness about my efficacy as a teacher manifested itself only when a change initiative failed. Then like an insidious disease it reappeared more often, and finally like a rapacious cancer it spread to other aspects of my professional experience. Within a few short years, no areas of my curriculum, instruction, or classroom management strategies were unaffected; in relation to their educational effectiveness, all were suspect. Unease, doubt, and recrimination characterized all of my reflections on my educational experiences. When something failed, the blame had to lie with either those damned administrators, or the undisciplined, unmotivated students, or the poor childrearing practices and poor genetics of the parents.
Explaining this bleak vision requires three disclosures. First, my teaching career started amidst an unbridled sense of optimism that my generation and I could indeed change things for the better. After the initial efforts driven by this unrestrained optimism, and after the realities of life