School Systems and Redesign

There has been many revolutions and movements throughout history. The Industrial Revolution, The Renaissance, The Reformation, The French Revolution, The Crusades, The Human Rights Charter, so on and so forth, just to name a few.

We have never really witnessed an Educational Revolution in our time that has truly changed the face of Education. Yes, there have been great attempts when it comes to educational reform and improving it, but not in the way that education needs to change.

This made me think a lot about school systems and the people within those systems. Maybe we need to rethink and aggregate what we are doing to seriously provoke positive change.

In order to stir up change we need to ask how we get people to think systematically?

Who better to learn from than observing how children learn and then using that to drive the change and the old-tired school systems and molds we have created.

When a child is given something they have never seen before and they are confronted with the need to understand it a child generally goes through a 3-step process.

1. The first thing they do is take it apart;

2. The second thing they do is try to understand the behavior of each part taken separately;

3. Then they try to aggregate the understanding of the parts into the understanding of the whole.

(just like a jig-saw puzzle – a lot like a system)

This is to analyze. To separate the whole into parts and study each part individually. Analysis has become the dominant mode of thought in the West for around 400 years. This is how we ‘manage’ school systems to a large degree. We take the school system apart through subjects or disciplines and try to run each one and aggregate them into a whole. You cannot explain the behavior of a system by analyzing it. You can reveal its structure and say how it works, but not say why it works the way it does.

A simple example of this is this: the British drive on the other side of the street and their steering wheel is on the right and American cars on the left. A mechanic and an engineer could dissemble all the cars from these two countries and they will never be able to explain why one drives on the right and the other on the left. Because explanation never lies inside of a system. A system can never understand itself. You can learn all about ice, yet very little about water. This sounds a lot like the way school systems have been set up and are run.

Let’s ask this question again….. “How do you get people to think systematically so that we can challenge school systems?”

Around the 1950s there was a procedure called the ‘idealized redesign.’ The only way we can think creatively about a system is to assume that a school system was destroyed last night. If you could do anything at all to replace it, what would you do if you were completely unconstrained?

If you don’t know what you would do even if you could do whatever you wanted right now then how possibly would you know what to do?

This forces you to study the whole instead of the parts and also study the parts separately. So, in idealized redesign you redesign the system as a whole then derive the property of the parts. You see, we spend a lot of time improving the quality of the things that ought to be destroyed. As things become dysfunctional we institutionalize that dysfunctionality. We have to redesign education and not improve the quality of the existing. This is why we need to revolutionize school.

It is time to take a closer look at school systems and completely change the system that is failing so many of our students. This goes for schools and higher-education too. We would like to think that we are giving students the opportunity and the ability to think, yet the current system and design is to get them to past tests. Isn’t it?

What is the purpose of education? For me, it was about passing, not learning. Not much has changed since I was at school or the generations before me. Time for a revolution.

Image by Liza Daly on Flickr


One comment

  1. Stephanie

    Chad your post touches on so much malaise within schools. We do so much because that is what we do in school without ever really questioning purpose. Only by taking time to examine the purpose behind our actions can we ever bring about changing our moulds. I highly recommend that you get your hands on a documentary called interconnected (I have a copy) which explores how knowledge is becoming more interdependent with a view towards shifting away from our current disciplines.

    Question. What is a box you see yourself in with your teaching practice? How could you change?


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