Challenge Conventional Assumptions

I have been reading “ThinkerToys” by Michael Michalko.  I am going to try to do one Thinkertoy exercise per day (or at least a few per week).  The goal is to help get my brain to be in a creative state more often than not.  I will attempt to share the exercises here.  Today I got in a debate on twitter challenging the local university system.  (thanks @ninky, @YuriArtibise and @jose602).  So when tonight’s Thinkertoy came up I figured that I would tackle the problem of “Lack of funding in Elementary Education”.

Exercise: False Faces

“All warfare is based on deception.” – Sun Tzu

The idea of this exercise is to reverse all your assumptions.  “Obviously, many things have to be taken for granted, and the purpose is not to pretend that one has the time to challenge every assumption, but instead to show nothing is sacrosanct.  Once you truly realize this, you are open to all sorts of discoveries…. Reversing your assumptions broadens your thinking.  You may often find yourself looking at the same thing as everybody else, yet seeing something different.  Many creative thinkers get their most original ideas when they challenge and reverse the obvious.”

To reverse a challenge:

1. State your challenge.

Lack of funding in Elementary Education is hurting education.

2. List your assumptions.

I think a little differently than most on this subject, so to make sure my guesses about the fundamental assumptions were correct I put a call out to twitter.  I got some good responses from (@acydlord, @casademora, @jivadevoe, @dr1665, @refriedchicken, @conrey and @claytonlz ).  From them I got the following list.

Some common assumptions about more funding is necessary to improve education in elementary schools are:

A. Lack of funds reduces effectiveness in reading, math, social skills, technology and the arts.

B. Teachers will not stay if they are not compensated well. (teacher retention) (x2)

C. Basic supplies are needed to properly educate.

D. Need more teachers. (smaller class sizes increase learning) (x2)

E. More technology in the class room makes education better.

3. Challenge the fundamental assumptions.

Each of these assumptions hold up to most arguments, except for assumption (A) which is fairly broad and vague.  Assumptions (B) and (D) are likely widely held.

4. Reverse each assumption. (What is the opposite?)

The reverse assumptions would be:

A. The original assumptions are too vague.  Reversing them doesn’t make a lot of sense.

B. Paying teachers less money would encourage them to stay at their current school and be more dedicated.

C. Student learn better and teachers teach better without basic school supplies.

D. Larger class sizes make for better learning enivornments.

E. Technology in the class room hinders learning.

5. Record differing view points that might prove useful to you.

At least three respondents held the different view point on more funding.

A. Current administration of schools has to change first.

B. More funding won’t help at all.

C. More creative use of funding is necessary, just more money won’t fix it.

6. Ask yourself how to accomplish each reversal.

How can we increase educational effectiveness in elementary schools without increasing funding?

A. Skipping

B. A school that pays teachers less money.

IDEA: Reward the best teachers with the freedom to compile and execute their own curriculum and set their own benchmarks for success.

C. Operate a school with no budget for school supplies.

IDEA: Partner with private companies to let them provide school supplies and in exchange let them sell advertising space on the school supplies.

D. A school that operates with class sizes of over 40 students.

IDEA: Use educational techniques that require collaboration by the students and allow the strongest students to teach the weakest students.

E. A school that doesn’t use technology in the classroom.

IDEA: Offer a back to basics curriculum that specializes in the core concepts using theory instead of technology.

Ideally, you should pick one of the ideas and work all the angles to implement it.  If I were to pick one idea to focus on it would be Item B above.  I think giving teachers back the creativity to teach how they see fit opposed to some government mandate would be far more appealing than more pay.  What are your thoughts?  On the exercise?  The assumptions?  The challenges?  The solutions?


  1. Regarding B, a school that pays teachers less money….

    Observation: In other professions, BS/BA level performs work, MS/MA level teaches and creates new BS/BA people, and PhD level researches and devises new methods. However, in schools, MS/MA do work (i.e., are required to teach in classrooms), making a BS/BA degree irrelevant and somewhat ridiculed. In fact, it is _not allowed_ for any less than MS/MA to oversee children in a classroom! PhD are expected to be administrators, with little or no time left for research and creativity.

    Solution: create a _teaching process_ wherein lower degrees (BS, BA, AA) are allowed to oversee children, at least for monitoring during recital (e.g., tutoring and testing) and study time. Allow MS/MA level people to instruct and teach these lower levels in real-time, with career authority over them.

    Expectations: 1 MS/MA over 4 BS/BA/AA (5 people to 4 classrooms) is a better student/teacher ratio, at comparable price to 4 MS/MA people alone. Skilled BS/BA/AA will selectively choose career moves to become MS/MA, as in other professions, instead of being forced to it.

  2. Interesting article.
    I like the ideas C and E.

    On a tangent, what about the idea of no gov’t funding for education.

    The market could decide which schools succeeded.

    That’s not to say all schools would be corporations. Non-profits and small business would participate.

    Just something to think about. I don’t know the best answer 🙂

  3. antiquus,

    Certainly an idea worth talking about. For the life of me I have never understood why a 1st grade teacher needs a Masters degree. Allowing AA teachers would help eliminate teacher shortages as well as reduce costs. However, this will not be adopted because it goes against the “university system” that all schools are trying to etch into the students. Love the spirit of challenging assumptions! Assumption “A teacher needs minimum of a Master’s degree to effectively teach elementary education.” Counter Assumption “It is a waste to have a teacher with a Master’s degree teaching elementary education”!!! Love the challenge!

  4. Drew,

    The best part about this kind of exercise is you don’t need to have the best answer, you just need to challenge the current assumptions, especially if they aren’t currently working. Assumption “Schools have to be publicly funded” Counter Assumption “Schools should be privately funded”. Definitely a disruptive counter assumption.

  5. Drew,

    I do think that education should be publicly funded for the same reasons that road and bridges are: it is a matter of continued revenue to the local business community. Schools should be a local watershed of economic futures.

    If your comment was limited to Federal government money, I would agree completely. Why should we send money to Washington so they can simply turn around and give back to us? Let us count the number of people in the local schools whose job it is to fill out federal-$$$ forms.

    Unfortunately, educators are the least likely to understand money and how to use it wisely.

  6. I’m on board for completely turning the education system on it’s head. Get the federal government out of education on a state level and let the states do what they want. I think the current incentives, for everyone, are all skewed. More free market reforms like tax credits, or even vouchers, and anything to promote school choice would be great.

    I thought this was an interesting exercise in challenging assumptions, I’ll have to pick a copy up.

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