Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Ethics of Innovation & Reform in Education

I recently read an article about the innovative and creative exploits of Google.

The article attributed many of Google's most innovative and successful projects to the idea of "moonshot thinking" whereby Google takes on "highly experimental projects that will become industry changing success stories or total failures"

Such thinking has been attributed to projects such as Google Glasses, Project Loon , self driving cars and more recently Calico - a health company that "will focus on health and well-being, in particular the challenge of aging and associated diseases"

The creative and innovative energy around these initiatives excites me. I want to create that same energy in schools - for both students and teachers.

As a teacher/administrator I want to inspire students to strive for "moonshot thinking" in their own lives.  After all, which educator wouldn't?

Yet, I'm left wondering.....

Is unfettered, radical innovation and reform in education morally ethical?

Is Google "totally failing" at a project the same as a school reform initiative "totally failing"?

Google losing a couple hundred million dollars (out of a couple billion dollars) is not the same as a school potentially "losing" even one student.

Reform in education is challenging. It involves real people in their most formative and vulnerable years.

I can't help but wonder about the effect on failed reform initiatives for generations of students - from the US polices of "No Child Left Behind" to turning schools into educational call centres

Picture taken from:

As educators, perhaps, before we look to the corporate world as exemplars, we need to think about who we are serving and the consequences of our actions.

I offer the following suggestions:

1. Ask yourself "why" before you moving forward. What are your school's values? Are your actions in alignment with these values?

2. What will be the possible impacts of your action? Predicting and applying systems thinking to this process is critical. Like Peter Senge writes: "today's problems are a consequence of yesterday's solutions"

3. What does the current research reveal? Research is important, but know the limiting aspects of your research as well..

5. Is this work creating the most good with the least possible negatives (there is always going to be potential "risk")

6. Ask yourself: Would you want your own child to participate in this "innovative program?"

I like the idea of "moonshot thinking". The world has changed. Education needs to change. But education is not the same as Google. The stakes are much higher in education.

Still figuring it out....


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks for this post Jonny. I too like the idea of moonshot thinking. One of the things I want to keep in mind too is the student and community experience in transitioning to new and innovative practices. How do you work to bring all stakeholders on board as you roll out new ideas?

  3. About a year ago I was having a discussion with a school board trustee. An employee of the school board had initiated an innovative program which had failed. I was encouraging him not to overreact to the surrounding press because of the effect that would have on innovation in the board. His response was "parents don't send their kids to school to be experimented on!". I think this is true. Parents are unwilling to take risks when it comes to their children and our society is unwilling to do anything that might put kids at risk. This has implications for his we innovate in education because innovation requires being willing to try and fail. It's especially challenging in a system where the mainstream is so wide because often innovation happen sat the fringes. Is a complex topic that needs further discussion. Here's a blog I wrote about innovation in education for the CEA. It's part of a Aerie's they did.

    1. Hi Andrew
      Thanks for taking the time to post a comment and directing me to your post. This is a complex topic and one that requires us as educators to be strong relationships with our parents and students. Thanks again