Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Sailing into the future on the educational SS Titanic!
'Experts' should go down with their ship to make room for new thinking.
It appears to me that many of our current organizations may look impressive but there are plenty of signs that all is not well. There are ‘social icebergs’ of discontent and alienation ahead that will eventfully force change on us. Just as it takes a tragedy in our personal lives for us to face up to new reality, so it is with the wider world of organizations – particularly those designed in, and for, past eras.
Large secondary schools are one modern equivalent of the Titanic. As with the Titanic they are built on traditional class based hierarchal lines and are not really equipped to save ‘passengers’ from the ‘steerage class’. What happened to the Titanic was unimaginable. At least schools today have figures to show that 20% of their students are ‘educationally drowning’.
But still we blame dysfunction students, or their parents, and even the teachers, when it is the schools that are dysfunctional. Failure is endemic. They are OK for the academic students, with the so called ‘social capital’ to go ‘first class’, but unhealthy places for the more creative or less academic One system does not fit all.
The trouble is we adjust so well to the current ways of doing things that any change seems unthinkable. If we are too good at adjusting to the current system we may never realize that the system needs changing. Too many school people have fallen into this trap. To free ourselves from this dilemma we need to think hard about the purpose of an education for the 21stCentury. If we are to do this we need to avoid involving the Designers, the Captain and Officers of the current ‘educational ship’. They should, as in all good movies, go down with their ship!
As for what to do, anything would be better for the ‘drowning students’. Creative teachers and their communities could invent a range of possibilities and keep what works. Forget those ‘experts’ in their technocratic ivory towers who have plans for everyone to follow. Their plans never worked in the past and the future requires new mindsets. They have been too busy ‘rearranging the deck chairs’ to consider the future.
And it is worth remembering that experts built the Titanic while an amateur built the Ark!
So what works best? Destruction, according to author Kevin Kelly in his book ‘Out of Control’. Kelly writes that it is, ‘generally much easier to kill an organization than to change it substantially. Organizations by design are not made to adapt…beyond a certain point. Beyond that point, it’s much easier to kill them off and start a new one than it is to change them.’
Things were never the same after the Titanic. Are we are reaching that certain point soon in education? Do we need to fail all our students to realize we persist with the wrong system for the wrong century?
The answer to the first is yes - to the second no , but only if we have the wit and the imagination to think up new possibilities.