Allan J. Mucerino
LOOKING FOR A GAP TO NARROW? TRY THIS ONE.
The metaphor of the ”gap“ to describe education's great divide is maddening. As it is notably interrogated as the result of the disproportionate value education brings to different segments of our society, it is useful only for its symbolic representation of the dominant narrative that reminds us of the deficit ideology that threatens education's perceived identity as a staple of democracy and paragon of the American Dream.
Much like another destructive metaphor, the "margin," the gap is dead space in the architecture of education in America.
While not as notable, the perception of an academic-practitioner gap is no less exasperating. Its existence makes no sense to me for two reasons. First, I exist in the middle, the place where both the academic and practitioner worlds are bonded by the mutual benefit each affords the other.
While in some fields of study, academician's research interests are mostly irrelevant to the practitioner, that's not the case in education.
In universities like California State University, Fullerton, research focuses on problems of practice. The knowledge transfer between academicians and practitioners is particularly high in the Education Leadership program. Since the tendency of most organizations steeped in bureaucracy is to preserve the established norms or status quo, it's of critical importance that practitioners understand research and academicians understand context.
When W. Edwards Deming wrote, Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets," he was referring to the state that bureaucratic systems persist in, in part because their elements continue to perpetuate it.
The same system that created the problem cannot change it. Perhaps not totally unique, institutional and bureaucratic inertia have become an historical trend in education. It has shaped its structure and created the very space that currently and necessarily has education searching for its soul among the perfect storm of social and political movements in American society.
Second, practitioners have at their disposal a wealth of conceptual and theoretical frameworks that can help them reframe problems and reconceptualize education. Groupthink is among the reasons practitioners fail to ask the right questions. I maintain that a leader's most difficult task is managing agreement, not conflict. Embracing the differing perspectives of the academician provides relevant insights. Practitioners are not trained to dig deep, examine patterns, and identify structure in the same way researchers are - particularly when it comes to qualitative data.
In the before-mentioned leadership program at California State University, Fullerton, when students begin their journey they are tasked with understanding how education's epistemological roots have shaped its contemporary status. The goal is to reconceptualize education. It starts by acknowledging that there is no gap.
The gap is a man-made social construct that exists only because the system is designed to measure everyone on the same scale, as though we were measuring height and weight. This, despite everything we know about how important it is to disentangle the every from the one ("everyone" is an oxymoron).
Research-practitioners acknowledge that education is constructed to be perceived based on what is deemed to be socially and culturally appropriate. An ethnographic lens helps researchers and practitioners alike study the structural irregularities that systemically sort students on one side of the gap or the other.