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Monday, May 12, 2014

WHY WE RESIST STANDARDS

BRYCE ON SOCIETY

- An explanation why Common Core will fail.

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Americans have a problem with standards. Think about it; we never switched over to the metric system did we? It would have been logical to adopt a worldwide standard but we stubbornly clung to our older system of weights and measures. I think this is due to the fact we tend to promote rugged individualism as opposed to teamwork and, as such, we possess an innate maverick spirit which abhors uniformity and regimentation. This is why parents resist school uniforms, as it may be construed as inhibiting creativity and initiative. This also explains why we do not like to cooperate with our neighbors and co-workers,

Coming from the Information Technology industry, I have witnessed many attempts at standardization, but most fizzled out before they could take hold as the I.T. field is a cut-throat territorial type of industry where companies try to dominate each other. To illustrate, the concept of the COBOL programming language was to provide a common business oriented language which could be standardized on the various computer platforms of the day. To computer hardware manufacturers, COBOL represented a threat to their existence, thereby providing a means to move from one computer platform to another. Consequently, each computer vendor devised their own interpretation of COBOL and implemented it accordingly. The result, standardization was rebuffed and the opportunity to share program source code over multiple platforms was denied.

The only true standard I've seen in the I.T. field was the creation of ASCII code by Robert W. Bemer (American Standard Code for Information Interchange). ASCII represents the standard letters, numbers and punctuation symbols to be used for encoding computer instructions. Without it, there would not be any form of COBOL or other programming languages, and we would have likely not heard of people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

Standardization offers the benefits of uniformity, predictability, interchangeability, and harmony. If this is not of interest to you, than there is little point in trying to participate in a standards program. However, if you do wish to participate, understand there is more to implementing standards than simply saying, "that's just how it is going to be done." There has to be some sound rationale for their governance. In addition, you must address the enforcement issue. Standards will be adhered to by the degree of discipline instilled in the people charged with implementing them. If well disciplined, your chances for success are good, but if discipline is lax, automation is required to assure standards are being followed.

Another problem is changing standards on a whim. For example, Freemasons have been practicing their Craft for hundreds of years all over the world. Yet, each jurisdiction, which is normally based on a geographical boundary such as a state or province, has their own unique way of operating which is rarely compatible with others. The principles may be the same, but the physical implementation is different. Of all people, you would think the ancient order of Freemasons, which has been around for hundreds of years, would have such standards. Surprisingly, they do not. And yet they continue to change their rituals on an annual basis. I never understood this.

Now the country is embroiled in a standards initiative for educating our youth, specifically the Common Core State Standards Initiative. At first, the concept of education standards was warmly received by most of the states, but now a revolt is in the offing as states are beginning to question the validity of the Common Core standards. More than anything, the cause for the disillusionment is suspicion of the physical implementation of the program, which has dragged on too long and is producing seemingly questionable techniques for teaching key concepts, particularly in the area of math. Some of this may be legitimate criticisms, and some may be based on misinterpretation, nevertheless the government is doing a pathetic job of implementing and selling it to the public, hence more states are withdrawing from the program and it will likely be implemented on a state by state basis, just like the Masons. Besides, I've never seen a government standards initiative that ever bore fruit.

So, why do we resist standards? Three reasons; We tend to encourage rugged individualism as opposed to teamwork; our tendency to be unique makes us suspicious of the motives of the people developing standards, and; we question the physical implementation of standards, whether or not we can truly realize an honest and consistent approach. In the case of Common Core, the government has dropped the ball in all three areas, as they have done time and again in other initiatives.

The only way standards can be adopted in this country is to prove they are absolutely necessary. In the case of Bemer's ASCII code, yes it was necessary. COBOL was perceived as a good idea, but certainly not something mandatory in nature. Consequently, multiple interpretations were devised, and I believe this is the direction Common Core is heading. Unless it is perceived as something we absolutely need to do, I'm afraid Common Core will go the way of the metric system in this country.

"It is one thing to enact legislation, quite another to enforce it."
- Bryce's Law

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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