My Toaster is Broken: An Analogy About the Current State of Education

smoking toaster

It makes a terrible cup of coffee.

I put the coffee in the toaster, pour in some water and push the lever down and then I get sparks, and smoke and, well, really gross coffee. My toaster is just terrible. It needs to work harder. Each day I try something new. I jostle the level, play around with the settings, vary the timing and the amount of water, but it still produces terrible results.When I compare the coffee my toaster makes to the coffee I get at Starbucks, it’s really quite frightening.

My point, patient readers, is that my fictitious toaster dilemma is (in my opinion) analogous to the current state of education in North America (And I must give credit to Melanie McBride for using the toaster analogy one night–although I think we were discussing a different issue). I haven’t seen “Waiting for Superman” yet, and I’m not sure I can handle it because, as a teacher, I’m feeling a bit fragile at the moment. Based on what I’ve read about this documentary, it identifies a number of problems with the American education system, including the opinions that raising test scores are a top priority and teachers just aren’t trying hard enough.

Even if I’m wrong and the documentary doesn’t suggest these points, they’re certainly not points we in education haven’t heard before. School improvement plans are consistently tied to standardized test scores, and teachers consistently get the message that they’re just not cutting it.

Just to clarify, teachers are not toasters in this analogy, but they’re part of the toaster. The toaster is our current education paradigm, and we desperately need a paradigm shift. Don’t believe me? Ask Sir Ken Robinson. He’s much more persuasive because he’s a “Sir” and has a clever British accent.

We’re working within an educational model that hasn’t changed much since the 19th century and was never designed to get all students to excel; it was designed to create factory workers with basic literacy and numeracy skills who could follow orders. We’ve got an educational model that was designed to produce well… toast!

Should we expect teachers to work hard? Absolutely. I don’t believe in dwelling helplessly on things that are out of our control. BUT, if you’re going to go talking trash about my toasters er colleagues, I’m going to come out swinging.

7 thoughts on “My Toaster is Broken: An Analogy About the Current State of Education

  1. Everyone knows that the only thing that matters, is what comes out of your toaster the one day we measure it’s effectiveness. Of course, we do that by measuring that which we can, the temperature of the coffee.

  2. You’re right. Sadly, we need to stop putting so much emphasis on trying to assess how well students use 19th century toaster technology, because in the real world graduates will be expected to know how to effectively use the new, 20th century microwave technology.

    While effective in its day, the toaster is now just one of many ways to heat things up.

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  5. Hi Danika!

    I found the excellent blog post thanks to Tyson Seburn, and I am very glad he led me to it.

    I know the Canadian educational system pretty well, due to my ties with the country and that I know a lot of people who work in education there. I would agree with you on the fact that not much has changed – it works much better than in some countries, but could be greatly improved. The system here in Switzerland is pretty much the same as in Canada, regarding grading and so on. It definitely has to change.

    I absolutely love the toaster analogy. Thanks for a great post – I am happy I discovered it, even so many months later!

    Kindest regards,
    Vicky

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