Cause, function, intention, #change11, accident, coincidence, interpretation, …

We live in a world of chaos, but we do not see it often. Good intentions to change things often cause unexpected side effects. And side effects combined with good intentions of other people and interpretations of actions make a chaotic world. (Question: what are good intentions?) We often speak about education in a very abstract way.
The work of a teacher with the intention to educate to (let’s say) freedom and independency has lot of functions (effects) the teacher does not intent. (function as a sociological word). This teacher cannot know and does not know the outcome of everything he does in this education. It is questionable whether there is a causal link between what the teacher does and what students learn. A connection exists but it is a fuzzy connection and not a cause-effect connection. In the end some of his students could become criminals, drop-outs or bank-managers ;).

I think it a very wild statement to say: The existing educational system is on making replicas (The workers). I do not know if the educational system as a system does want anything, and I do not know if the educational system (which is a very fuzzy heap of components and maybe not even a real system) has the goal of making replicas. I doubt it.

Nancy White introduced the Social Artist. An artist is opening spaces and is not changing systems or educating in the old sense of intentional changing people. Is the social artist the answer to our problems with education?

The work and intentions of the teacher (to educate free and independent students) are frustrated by accidents, coincidences and by the actions of other people. Change is not always Improvement. This teacher is part of an educational system, we say. But we do not agree on the boundaries of this educational system. Is it schools + governmental bodies + parents + internet + newspapers + books + students or is it more? It takes a lot of efforts to keep the educational system working. We are always trying to improve it.

If we zoom in on the student we see a clear picture of a student in a classroom. But when we look closer nothing is what is seems to be. The student is influenced (and educated) by a great diversity of ‘agents’. Teachers are not the only agents of education, other students and parents (and other unknown agents) do have influence too. “Do I actually think I’m making a difference?” (George Siemens) Actions of educational agents are interpreted. Students will give a meaning to actions. Educators actions and actions of others will coincidence and have unwanted effects. The student, being an agent and a human being, will change influences by interpretation, by rejection, or misunderstanding.

So if we want to change education at the macro level, we are in big trouble. Because we do not exactly know what the educational system is and we do not know how the educational system will react on our actions. Very frustrating for managers and politicians who want to improve the system. (Same problems when we want to change the complicated monetary or economical system) An action could cause unwanted effects.

In most sciences and industries change is not easy, causes a lot of trouble and costs a lot of money. (making a new airplane 787 Dreamliner of Boeing is an unpredictable adventure).
Even in a classroom an experienced teacher will meet problems when he introduces some new teaching. Change will occur, but change is unpredictable.

If you want to change people (and that is what education is about) some/most results will be unexpected and unplanned. (an old song says: everybody wants change, but when change did occur everybody longs for the old days).

The answer is: we try the best we can and hope for the best.


4 thoughts on “Cause, function, intention, #change11, accident, coincidence, interpretation, …

  1. Interesting post, providing opportunity through opening up new spaces makes sense rather than hammering away at the ghosts we’ve populated traditional education with. Ghosts that we invent to support arguments rather than the people who actually practice as educators.

    Do you think we fool ourselves by thinking of change as something that sweeps through a system with all its arrangements and subcategories just by wishing for it? Education is so complex and many-layered in itself and then it is embedded in the complexity of society pushing at it from all sides that, as you say, the consequences of the actions are hard to predict. And particularly hard to predict when they are applied to imaginary players with imaginary intentions.

    The college where I work is starting a new curriculum structure. The initial spark was the reality of working students spread over a huge land area needing compacted courses that are easy to afford and delivered to where they work. It could take hours to explain (and foolish at the design stage to predict the final outcome) but the structure has the character of something that is understandable or apparent without the need to call in theories of self-organization arising from chaos or the intervention of a major deity to be comprehensible.

    It will take me a while to understand the new structure enough to describe it properly–in simple language I hope. For the time being I’ll say the needs of the learner seem the simpler source of “reform” in education. Each learner has needs that are less burdened by the complexities that tangle traditional institutional structures in knots. (And cause MOOC discussions to run off into more and more complex theories). The learner comes to school without theories themselves as students and schools generally try to greet the student as a child and not a lab animal. I think we start in the right place and have to remember this when we argue for change based on bad things that were not designed into or intended to come out of the educational system.


  2. Change and repairs goes best when problems are solved one by one with an eye on unexpected outcomes.
    Sweeping through a system is a barbaric way to solve problems, “destroy the place and problems are solved” .

  3. Agree, throwing everything out to solve a problem usually shows a poor understanding of the problem. Just a reaction rather than a thoughtful solution. I think there’s a bit betrayal felt by many on the MOOCs who invested so much in “getting educated” and now can’t find the promised jobs they expected. It’s not their fault nor is it an institutional failure that the economy shifted and outdated their skills.

    Anyway, educational institutions work on longer time scales than economies and who wants universities that are hyper reactive to shifts in the economy? People would never be able to graduate if their “majors” changed as often as the menu at McDonalds. Working in building construction I was periodically thrown out of work or forced to adapt to new tools and materials. I didn’t blame the carpentry or plumbing profession, or my teachers for the tangle of interdependent factors that fed the recessions leading to my lay-offs. What saved me was a base of skills that permitted me to adapt as quickly as possible. This foundational base takes time to develop and at some point all of us have to sacrifice some time to learning skills that allow more skills to be learned.

    I wonder what edu-punk philosophy would look like applied to the building trades? Or airline pilots? Seems to me it’s only useful for the soft trades like philosophy where all one needs is talk to solve all problems.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s