The publisher of this website and I recently talked about the idea, held by many, that societal change must occur before the education system (and other systems within society) can change. I promised him that my next blog post would address this issue directly. So, here goes…
There are three typical stances people take towards change of America’s educational system:
- Everything is fine, so nothing really needs much fixing.
- Things aren’t fine, especially for those who are “underserved,” and we know specific strategies to fix the system (think – our nation’s current dominant narrative on education reform).
- Things aren’t fine, but that’s because society is messed up. So, we need to fix society first, and then education can change.
There is a fourth way to think about this issue – co-evolution.
Over the past 100 years or so society has evolved in three “great waves.” It has moved from an agrarian society to an industrial age and then to our current wave, the information age. Some key characteristics of the industrial age are adversarial relationships, centralized control, compliance, and compartmentalization. In contrast, key aspects of the information age include cooperative relationships, team organization, shared leadership, and participatory democracy.
Dr. Bela Banathy, a systems scientist, wrote extensively about the idea of societal evolution, especially as it connected to education. He posits that, over time, society has evolved, and ideally, as a society evolves the systems within it should evolve as well. He calls this concept “co-evolution.” Banathy believed in a co-evolutionary relationship where education’s role could be “…in the form of co-evolution with and mutual shaping of the society and even spearheading societal development.”
“Our concern here is primarily the public image, the image that “makes” our contemporary society, the image that at the same time is shaped by the emerging and transforming society. It is important for us to understand the dynamics of this mutual shaping, inasmuch as the same will apply in creating a new image of education. That image IS shaped by the societal image, and the societal image IS shaped by education. Earlier we named this dynamic recursive relationship as co-evolution.” (Banathy – Systems Design of Education)
So, here is a fourth way to consider educational change; education must co-evolve with society in such a way that each shapes the other; society not only effects education, but education effects society.
Unfortunately, our nation has not seen the necessary co-evolution of education with society and its systems. This evolutionary imbalance is dangerous, and we have begun to see its effects.
There is a disconnect between the core features of the information age and the reality of life for so many in our country. Our current society still has significant inequality and injustice, to mention just a couple social ills. In fact, over the past 40 years our nation has seen increased apathy and civic disengagement on these issues. We can tie this to the disconnect between our society and its major systems – educational, health care, political. Simply – while society as a whole has evolved, the educational system (and other key systems) within in it has not.
And there are other dangers with this evolutionary imbalance. Not only is our educational system inequitably meeting the needs of our country’s student population, it also lacks the structures and emphasis to produce the students our nation needs – students who can work well in teams, think creatively, and solve problems, students with well-developed social and emotional competencies, and students with grounded moral centers. This is in large part due to the fact that it is still operating within an industrial age paradigm.
“…The societal characteristics of the current age are markedly different from – and are discontinuous with – those of the industrial age, in which our educational systems remain rooted. The major shift toward… the Post-Industrial Information Society is manifested in massive changes in general societal characteristics, in socio-cultural, socio-technical, socio-economic, and scientific characteristics, and in organizational characteristics. These characteristics reflect major transformations in all aspects of our lives, a total change of our societal environmental landscape. Such a transformation requires radical changes in the “whats,” “hows,” “when,” and “where” of education. This calls for nothing less than a massive transformation – or metamorphosis – of our educational systems.”
As educators, and those who care about education, we must work for evolution of our educational system – an educational system that can “spearhead societal development.”
This calls for paradigm change – a paradigm as evolved as the information age. Piecemeal change (which is how we can classify the current educational reform agenda) will not suffice because it is contained within the industrial age paradigm.
I ended the last post with this question which I ask again… I ask you to take a minute, regardless of your feelings about today’s reform agenda, and envision a new paradigm for education. What would yours look like?
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