Communities of Learning Our Current Education System
A New Story of Education For a New Century
Our Current Education System
Our Current Education System:
Lagging Behind in the General Social Transformation
Now, with the turn of the year 2000, both the new century and the new millennium are presenting us with an entirely new era to be alive in. The 20th Century's paradigmatic shift in worldview has brought about a different set of rules for us to follow in the 21st Century. The pace of change that had already begun its sharp curve upward in mid-20th Century is continuing its exponential growth.
The basic social contract of life is being radically re-set. We are seeing a growing, widespread "democratization of power." (21)
But some arenas of life are lagging behind the widespread
societal changes happening around them. These arenas still strongly hold the old ground of the Industrial Age machine-thinking
model, with its hierarchic, command-and-control pyramids of power. Inertia and fear of the new hampers people's
ability to imagine - - to create images - - for the present, much less for the future. Instead, some people still
cling to the images of antiquated models to structure their activities. In Buckminster Fuller's words, they are
trying "to arrest the waves of the ocean."
One of these holdouts is the arena of education. Despite initial good intentions of the mid-1800’s to bring universal schooling, the institutionalized, mass-education approach has never reflected how human beings actually function. Instead, education operates in calcified, institutionalized "this-is-the-way-it's-done" inertia.
There currently exist schools that can and do offer good choices of subjects, taught by intelligent, creative instructors. And yet, even in these places, there is dissatisfaction and frustration with the general system. Continuing to be the norm at most schools - - both public and private - - is institutionalized, closed-system unresponsiveness and inflexibility to individual needs.
Fortunately, concurrent with our nascent culture's de-legitimization of the outmoded power-pyramic model of social organization, there is wide recognition that a fundamental change in America's education system is long overdue. This recognition is accompanied by a lively debate about how best to proceed. One branch of proposed reforms falls into the category of "school choice," with such measures as voucher systems and charter schools being proposed and tried. These proposals are in accord with Milton Friedman's urgings in the last half of the 20th Century to introduce free choice among schools to create an abundant smorgasbord of learning opportunities. (See his quote at the top of Proposal Summary.)
However, is the school the level at which we should offer choice? Closely examining proposals for vouchers and charters reveals the "choice" to remain still very much "inside the box." Neither touches the essential, systemic nature of what requires reform, and instead legitimizes its continuance. Both continue the closed-system, Industrial Age worldview with its power-pyramid institution model of social organization, with its extension of institutionalizing children.
Cartoon drawing of approaching buildings, each of which is an institution
Look at one from Tim McGinty - - look at “Building Image”
Some illustrations may help illuminate how closed-system mechanistic-thinking violates the essential nature of human beings. Let us use the two following images of nutrition and shopping to represent the institutionalization of learning :
1st Analogy. Given: "People need to eat food to stay alive."
The centralized institutional interpretation of this basic living need is to insist - - citing reasons of "management efficiency" - - that people must go to only one restaurant all day, every day, all year. The restaurants are assigned by narrowly sliced age groups, where all of the diners - - whether hungry or not - - are required to continually stuff themselves full of food - - whether tasty or not. Waiters go around and make sure their diners eat everything on their plates, telling them otherwise they will get in trouble and have to stay after hours and eat even more. And in addition, the waiters admonish their diners not to talk to anyone else at their dining tables. The maitre d’s go around making sure their waiters are making sure their diners are eating everything on their plates, telling the waiters they may be fired if their diners don’t eat well. The restaurant owners hold the maitre d’s responsible for how well the waiters are getting their diners to clean their plates, telling the maitre d’s they, also will otherwise be fired. The restaurant investors, in turn, tell the owners they will withdraw their investment money if the diners don’t clean their plates.
In this dreadful analogy, people are required to continually put food into their bodies, all day, every day, with little opportunity for personal choice of cuisine and portions, nor for adequate allowance for digestion time. (22)
2nd Analogy. Given: "People need to procure things they need for living their lives."
Shopping is an extremely popular pastime characterized by the lively, dynamic interchange between buyers' demands and merchants' offerings. Imagine if the experience of shopping were to become a forced affair arranged around a quota system. Imagine if people were required to go to only one store all day, every day, all year. There - - whether in the mood or not - - they are instructed to buy a pre-determined quantity of merchandise - - whether they liked or needed them or not. At first, the prospect would seem exciting : getting all this great new stuff !! And from nice, helpful salesclerks at wonderful stores !! But soon, the shoppers would grow weary of the salesclerks hovering around making sure everyone has gotten that day’s quota of merchandise.
Because the activity of shopping did not originate from the shoppers' internal promptings of pace and style, the experience would soon grow stale and would become work. Shoppers would come home at the end of each day and wearily throw that day's bags of merchandise onto the ever-growing stack of other un-put-away bags. They would grow to dread the whole endeavor and feel relieved when they got a break from it. "Ah-h-h. Summer vacation from shopping ! !" Because of not having the time to pause and integrate new purchases with existing ones, they would be unable to gain a clear sense of what they had or didn’t have, much less to evaluate what they really need or want. However, still wanting to have things, but not knowing any better method than through the quota approach, shoppers reluctantly resign themselves to participating in this system.
These illustrations show how institutionalized, pre-packaged systems of learning are an unnecessary and counterproductive assault on each individual's unique pace and rhythm of interactions, on individuals' sovereign right to make decisions for and to own their own lives. They illustrate how an individual’s essential nature will inevitably be violated by the rigidity of institutionalized education.
An individual's essential nature is to be fluidly responsive to his or her own inner promptings, with varying requirements of time needed for absorption and reflection. Individual freedom to choose ones learning opportunities - - or the lack of this freedom - - strongly influences the nature of the experience of navigating through and processing new stimuli. (22)
Piaget quote - - from black notebook.
Boy with leaf and water
Matthew and southern yellow pinetree
Institutionalized inertia has - - and has always had - - a stifling effect on the creativity, intelligence, and happiness of all participants. Our young people are our education system’s "canaries in the mine shaft" - - an early-warning system for alerting us when something is unhealthily amiss and requires immediate attention. They are indeed now alerting us : their way of responding to being violated is, tragically, to re-enact this violence - - whether outwardly loudly or internally quietly.
Cartoon drawing: canary falling off perch
Teachers report that their captive students' behavioral dynamics often resemble those of prison inmates. Recently, there have been all too many, widely publicized examples of students re-enacting this violence in its outwardly loudly tragic mode of expression. The response of the general public is shocked outrage at this “senseless” violence, with a wide range of lists of responsible causes and proposed cures. Looking more deeply, however, reveals that this violence is not actually "senseless," but rather a quite predictable consequence of subjecting people to continual violation in many of its possible forms.
Much less immediately apparent - - but quite grim in its own way - - is violences' re-enactment in the internally quietly tragic mode of expression. Most students appear on the surface to be well-adjusted, and many perform well academically. But what do the terms "well-adjusted" and "perform well" actually mean? To what have they become “adjusted”? And is the process of learning a “performance”?
After years of being exposed to institutionalized education, most “well-adjusted” students who “perform well” academically would report being incapable of functioning in conditions other than institutionalization. They would say that without institutional boundaries and requirements, they would not know what to do with their time, and would merely waste it on mindless activities, sit around feeling bored, or else get into trouble.
Ballard, inventor of “Jason,” the exploration device used in deep-sea expeditions to investigate such sites as the Titanic, has begun the “Jason Project” to teach science in the schools. The students - - called “Argonauts” - - go with professional scientists on their official expeditions, becoming part of the investigation team. The program’s intent is to give students a up-close look of what real-life scientists do in their real-life work. “This program is aimed at middle-school age students,” says Ballard, “because by the time they’re in the 10th grade, they have become so jaded by their schooling that they no longer have any interest or excitement about anything anymore.” (23)
This state of affairs indicates the extent to which institutionalized education has dampened the natural human qualities of curiosity and eagerness to explore. Our young people are weighted down with undigested knowledge, with pre-prescribed quotas of merchandise. Institutionalized education is culturing our young people in ways of thinking and being which do not bode well for them in the decades to come.
Institutionalized, closed-system education is jeopardizing both their individual, personal futures, and along with them the future of our world’s cultures as a whole. Our young people have the future inside of them. They will drive the evolution of our social organizations. Closed-system institutionalization of their education about life hampers and contorts this unfolding.
The future is NOT about individuals being cogs in the societal machine. By the year 2010, 90% of the really good, fulfilling jobs will be ones not yet in existence today. These activities will NOT be invented by people who have thoroughly schooled themselves in the Rules of Yesteryear. Rather, they will be envisioned and developed by people who have valued and emphasized in themselves the qualities of flexibility, fluidity, creativity, ingenuity, and inventiveness. In general : to openness to the New - - to expanded possibilities for discovering what human beings are capable of experiencing and creating together.
Looking at the future in this light, why limit individuals’
choice to one, mandatory, locked-in set of captive-audience offerings at one single, closed-system location? Why
create once-size-fits-all packages when such packages are actually one-size-fits-none?
Why not open the field to more options?
Next section: Education's Future: A New Story of Vitality and Adaptivity
Our Current Education