Education Reform LO9703

Marion Brady (
Tue, 3 Sep 1996 06:09:35 -0400 (EDT)

Replying to LO9661 --

Rol says,

(snip) "By and large, I think Marion's opinion [about the kind of
curriculum which should be in place in our schools and colleges] has
merit. My only difference is the 'practical' one -- if anything involving
educational reform can be said to be practical -- that moving every single
child's educational standard to that of today's best-taught children is a
desirable, easily-understood, politically relevant, intuitively obvious
goal.. ." (snip)

I think perhaps there's a fundamental communication problem here.
I'm not trying to move "every single child's educational standard to that
of today's best-taught children." I'm not trying to do that because I
don't believe that today's "best taught children" come even close to being
well taught.
The communication problem, I think, stems from the fact that those
who come to this discussion invariably come from one or another
disciplinary perspective. That's how our system works. We "major" in
biology or psychology or history or management or whatever, so it's
inevitable that, when we look at a long list of problems like those I
cited, we try to figure out how to solve them within the traditional
disciplinary paradigm.
And it looks all but impossible. It almost certainly IS
impossible. The disciplines didn't begin life as parts of a coherent
whole, so any attempt now to have them model a holistic reality
systemically is futile. The disciplines developed at different times, with
different vocabularies, pursuing different goals, at different levels of
generality and abstraction. Sure they've been and are productive. But
that doesn't mean that a random collection of specialized studies can
somehow be cobbled together to create the whole--an acceptable general
I'm saying that there's a "supradisciplinary" paradigm--a much
better way of doing what the disciplines do ("slicing reality apart" for
detailed description and analysis) that precedes the disciplines by
millenia, a way as as old as language and thought. The approach is
simple, is already in place in the minds of kids when they come to school,
is vastly superior to a conglomeration of disciplines for the purpose of
general education, and that making this implicitly known paradigm explicit
simply "walks around" all the problems. They don't have to be solved
through laborious work by the education establishment because they don't
exist in the first place.
I didn't invent this approach; all I'm doing is pointing to
something that's already there.

(snip) "In addition, the kinds of curricula Marion describes, while they
may exist today, are not widely held to be the 'way to go' . . ." (snip)
"In Maine we are attempting to create such a curriculum . . ."

The phrase "kinds of curricula" implies that there are several
rather parallel approaches to organizing the general education curriculum.
There are any number of "interdisciplinary" programs around the country.
The approach to which I'm trying to draw attention isn't one of them.
When SUNY Press published my 1989 book, the editors agreed that using our
culture's "built in" way of segmenting reality as a basis for organizing
the curriculum was unique, that it was "a wonderful idea," and that
nothing even remotely similar had ever before been proposed. As far as I
know, it remains unique. (And primarily because of the very
ubiquitousness in our thinking of the curricular structure it proposes,
it's likely to continue to be unique (and extremely difficult to
understand for those who think that schooling is about chemistry,
sociology, physics, mathematics, etc. rather than about the reality those
disciplines are supposed to model.)

(snip) "My opinion is that this is the way to go, but I don't see it as
the highest priority. For now."

The books, the bureaucracies, the budgets, etc.--all have only one
raison d'etre: to alter in useful ways the images of reality in the
student's mind. I'm perfectly aware of the necessity for all elements of
an educational system to be in sync, and I've had plenty of firsthand
experience with systems in which that hasn't been the case (all of them).
But I maintain that no matter how sophisticated the system, no matter its
apparent smoothness of operation, no matter its reputation, if what it's
doing isn't worth doing, then the whole enterprise is useless.
So, that's where I start--with a curriculum designed to make
explicit the student's implicitly held model of reality. And then I argue
that form should follow function, that this purpose should shape the
institution. For me, the curriculum isn't just one more system component.
It's the vision statement, and a clear vision of what education should be
all about is surely central and deserves the highest priority.
I just went back to finish reading the rest of the postings on the
digest, and came across Robert Lucadello's discussion of GM. His whole
post [The Unlearning Organization LO 9662] is applicable to what I'm
saying, but I'll paste in this part of it as particularly relevant:

"I would like to emphasize two points here: the first is that GM was
correct for a long time. Managers learned a paradigm that served the
company well for decades. The second is that, once the paradigm was no
longer valid, there was no incremental improvement or "work harder,
faster" approach that would help them. Before GM could learn a new
paradigm, it had to collectively unlearn the old one."

There's the problem. There's no incremental way to improve the
present discipline-based curriculum (including "new" approaches that bring
the disciplines to bear on themes or problems). And what a problem it is.
How does one create a vision to pull others toward a new paradigm, when
the stuff of which that vision is created is only visible from within the
new paradigm?




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