Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Symptoms vs Problems

One way of making it look like you are doing something is to ignore the real underlying problems and simply address the symptoms.

In a hospital this might be like nurses handing out cold drinks and Aspirin to bring down fevers for patients with pneumonia.

In schools this might be like teachers doing scripted test preparation to raise standardized test scores for students who have little understanding for real learning.

Such strategies are likely to be at best unhelpful and at worst harmful. While it is true that individual nurses or teachers might be to responsible for their short-sighted solutions, it is more likely true that there are top-down systemic bureaucratic pressures that need to be addressed.

To blame nurses or teachers for their systems' failures would be no different than simply firing all the bank tellers for the failures of the banks.

There is a world of difference between simply looking like we are doing something and actually solving the real problems that plague us.


  1. I say it a lot: Low test scores are a symptom. Poverty is the disease.

  2. Joe,
    you give 'low test scores' too much credit, they are not even symptons which need to be treated

    on second thoughts they are symptoms, the disease being the high stakes testing system

    I like Eward de Bono's analogy - education is a ship going in the wrong direction. All efforts to make it sail better, gets the kids on board further from being educated


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