Over the past half-century, American education leaders and policy-makers have taken measures that, although well intended, have severely hampered and handicapped the educative process. Today, classrooms are filled with increasingly disengaged students, unsatisfied teachers, omnipresent technology, standardized curriculum, and high-stakes tests. Within that context, our task is to problematize education, examining current best practices and time honored traditions. We bring a unique perspective to the investigation, each having served in the role of teacher, administrator, and researcher for the past 30 years. In no way do we harken back to a golden age of teaching. In fact, many of the practices we examine have been deemed non-negotiables for years. These practices represent the small print of teacher evaluations, the political slogans that make up about 30 seconds of the typical State of the Union address, and italicized statements within district mission statements that are posted on the school walls. We question instructional practices and methodologies that have been passed down from teacher to teacher, stamped as tried and true. Nietzsche (1888) spoke of idols as the most ancient and “the most believed in” truths, which upon closer examination prove to be “hollow” (p. 22). We put some of the sacred truths of contemporary education to the test, stirring up a little trouble in a realm that resists controversy. The title (The Center Cannot Hold) comes from a poem by William Butler Yeats, who presents an ominous vision of dissolution that has reached a tipping point where natural structures, such as the tides, lose their regulation and anarchy takes over. Since entropy can only remain constant or increase over time, it represents an inexorable force that cannot be reversed. While taking a skeptical tone, we suggest a saving power in the form of teachers who only require trust and space to apply their art.
The purpose of the book is to help doctoral students successfully complete their dissertation. This book possesses a theoretical grounding in motivational theory, along with insight into how consultation can push a student past the tipping point, resulting in completion, rather than procrastination. I seek to demystify the dissertation process and to provide hope to individuals who have lost momentum in their capstone academic project. In addition to articulating experiences of the consulting/coaching process, I call on voices of doctoral students, current and former, revealing their own understanding of this unique process. I present these comments as a dialogue between students and myself in one of the culminating chapters (Chapter 10), adding tangible experience to support my theoretical musings. The book is divided into three main parts: Part I includes an articulation of the need for supporting doctoral students. Chapters include 1) roadblocks to completing a dissertation, 2) how to gain traction, and 3) the centrality of feedback. Part II represents an effort to demystify the dissertation, with chapters representing the main sections of the “writing project.” These include 4) building a case for your study, 5) literature review, 6) method, 7) presenting your findings, and 8) discussion and conclusion. Part III, titled “putting it all together,” and includes chapters on 9) overcoming writer’s block, 10) voices of doctoral students and professors, 11) leveraging your dissertation professionally, and 12) final words of wisdom in the form of motivational speeches.