Where Do We Go
Examining Education in 2020: Part 3
In part two of this series, we examined the essence of the Educator, the nature of the Educator/Student relationship from each Level of Paradigm, and the value of disruption.
The pandemic has woken us up, breaking us free from our loops, highlighting the uneven online access to learning. And before most of the country is even out from under shelter-in-place orders, we’re rocked by further disruption — black men and women murdered by those that should have protected them, cared for them. Of course, this is not a new disruption, its history sadly long in this country. No, the disruption is the response to those deaths, the magnitude of which few can ignore. And it’s working. The opportunity presented by this disruption is being seized; social media is filling with personal testimonials from people taking ownership of their contribution to racism in the US. Because we do contribute to it. All of us. It is a systemic effect, and we live nested inside that system. In fact, nestedness, along with the other six first principles that Carol Sanford outlines in The Regenerative Life, is key to understanding how living systems work and our role in their evolution, and education systems sit at the heart of them.
Essence of Education Systems
As with the Student in part one and the Educator in part two, examining the essence of education systems from each Level of Paradigm can open a window for us to examine the role we might be playing in maintaining that paradigm and hopefully invite us to explore how we might work to evolve education systems to a higher paradigm.
From Value Return
At the level of Value Return, education systems are primarily focused on their continued existence. Their core process is to advertise knowledge that might be found inside towards their core purpose to gather classrooms of students and educators. The value of gathering classrooms is to establish a place of learning, such that education systems become durable. Like any entity operating from Value Return, their support for larger systems is minimal. In fact, at this level, they sit largely on their own. Since they are primarily concerned with their continued existence, education systems at this level tend to fragment and market themselves towards specific classrooms that will feel comfortable — feel safe — inside. Because they do not see themselves as supporting higher order systems, any disruption, especially emotional disruption risks shattering the classroom and the continued existence of the education system along with it. Instead, they work to feed emotions that will bind classrooms together more tightly and sever connections to other systems that might disrupt their internal cohesion.
From Arrest Disorder
Shifting to Arrest Disorder, the core process of education systems is to separate capability, to discriminate between those who have “the right stuff” and those that do not. Their purpose in this discrimination is to curate knowledge, ensuring that the human vessels of this knowledge are worthy stewards of it. The core value they produce is to certify knowledge so that other systems and institutions can rely on those certified to have a specific level of competence. While valuable, the limit here is a mindset of a functionally static world where knowledge certified today remains relevant through time. Still, even at Arrest Disorder, the nestedness of education systems starts to become visible.
Education systems at this level tend to view their role as stamping out new parts that are ready to be plugged into government, healthcare, and business structures that constantly need a new supply of humans to work inside them. Those entities value the certification provided by education systems, so they gain efficiency in hiring. Like any entity working at the level of Arrest Disorder, education systems see their role as one of maintaining the status quo and restraining the degradation caused by the overrun of Value Return. The irony here is that the knowledge transfer valued by educations systems at this level is always incomplete, so the new “parts” are imperfect copies of the educators’ expertise. By working from Arrest Disorder, the education systems’ ability to remain effective at slowing degradation in other systems itself degrades.
From Do Good
Inside Do Good, education systems work to expand access to education as a way of promoting growth for the students, educators, and other systems nested inside and for itself. The value here is to advance living systems, so that they continually improve over time, attempting to correct the slow deterioration of efficacy witnessed from Arrest Disorder. However, progress from Do Good is both slower and smaller because of its generic, one-size-fits-all approach to growth. Best practices are a myth. Each system is unique and demands a unique, nodal intervention that will shift it towards greater expression of its essence. The seductiveness of Do Good cannot be overstated; the growth possible from Do Good is tangible and valuable, and it diminishes the motivation to seek a higher paradigm.
It’s from Do Good that the education system begins to take stewardship for the systems nested inside of it.
Families support the education system, being the source for new humans that join it. The education system, in turn, seeks to promote growth inside the family, so they can do more, achieve more, become more. Education is, as Sanford notes, the core instrument of the Do Good paradigm1, how children can exceed the success of their parents. It’s realizing this nestedness that influences the educations systems core process to expand access; they are as concerned with the systems that support them as the systems they, in turn, support.
From Regenerate Life
As the education system rises to the level of Regenerate Life its core process shifts to awaken the curiosity of the students, educators, and families nested inside of it. Curiosity to learn about their world and the role they could be playing in it. Curiosity to journey both inward and outward, to understand their own thinking and to apply that thinking in service of something greater than themselves. That curiosity, now awake, becomes how the education system achieves its core purpose to cultivate thinking minds. Cultivation in the sense that the education system is no longer concerned with simply with molding minds to be knowledge vessels, but rather to see each mind as singular, unique and to cultivate the growth and evolution of that mind to better express its diversity and creativity. Cultivation also implies intent; it’s active, not passive, focused on thinking minds, minds that develop the capability to be self-observing, self-regulating, self-motivating — to observe mechanicalness and break free from it, to persevere in the face of adversity, to act towards the core value to evolve living systems.
The nestedness of the education system also evolves. Instead of seeing the nestedness as static — mere bricks supporting the structures of government, healthcare, and business — it becomes dynamic to support the evolution of governing, healthcare, and economic systems. It’s a mindset — a belief — that these social systems, like people, have an essence that the education system can help evolve. Of course, this means the education system must evolve, too, so it can remain value-adding, regenerating itself contextually each time by discerning what would best support the evolution of the larger systems in which it’s nested. This requires an entirely different approach to education than the knowledge acquisition and certification sourced from Arrest Disorder. Instead, knowledge is gained contextually, in direct service to adding value to another entity2.
Where do we go from here.
Why is the path unclear,
When we know home is near.
Understand we’ll go hand in hand,
But we’ll walk alone in fear. (Tell me)
Tell me where do we go from here.3
We’ve committed to the journey, to climb to a higher paradigm. Now, where do we go from here? If you’re looking here for an answer to that question, let me set expectations right from the start — I have one. But that’s it. One answer. My answer. And imposing my answer on others wouldn’t be working from Regenerate Life; it’d be collapsing to Do Good or even to Arrest Disorder. Where we go is an individual choice. That seems paradoxical at first, but of course it’s not. We can choose, individually, sourced from our own internal locus of control and our own personal agency, to journey together, guided by our shared external considering. Likewise, each entity working in education systems must discern how best to evolve both themselves and the system towards increasing expression of their essence and greater realization of their potential.
Where do we go from here? Written in the halcyon days just before another moment of uncertainty, the 9/11 attacks, Joss Whedon’s song doesn’t tell us where to go, but offers a vision of what the journey might look like. First, it’s a journey grounded in community — that we’ll go hand in hand — but despite that community our fear — our inner obstacles as Sanford writes — are ours to overcome. We must each do the inner developmental work so that together the outer work can materialize. As we do that work, “[i]t matters very much which paradigm we adopt.”4 That’s why the inner work is so important; it’s what enables us to discern paradigms, to admit to ourselves when we’ve unintentionally collapsed to a lower one. In these moments, gentleness with ourselves and with others becomes not a way to abdicate responsibility for our actions, but how we reignite our will to start the climb again. The Japanese proverb explains it succinctly: “七転び八起き”. Fall seven times; get up eight. Evolving education systems to not just meet the demands of the governing, healthcare, and economic systems but to, in turn, evolve those systems towards greater equity and opportunity for everyone seems daunting, overwhelming, impossible. And yet, history is full of great changes that seemed impossible until they happened. It’s not that we believe great changes can’t happen; it’s that we don’t see clearly our role in affecting those changes. Structured self-reflection guided by a community of resources committed to change can help us discover that role.
The will to rise comes from each of us; self-motivation is the only durable form of motivation. What is yours saying? Can you hear it now with the buzz of daily life disrupted by the pandemic?
Where will you go?
Originally published on Medium.
Sanford, Carol. The Regenerative Life (p. 39). Quercus. Kindle Edition.
A great example of such an approach is the “Innovation and Engineering Design for Global Crises” course from the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering. See here for a description of the course.
Whedon, Joss. Where Do We Go from Here? from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Sanford, Carol. The Regenerative Life (p. 42). Quercus. Kindle Edition.