Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Black Swans...


The "Black Swan"  by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is one of the most thought provoking and brilliant books I have ever read. Taleb uses the term 'black swan' to describe a highly unpredictable event that, having occurred, is treated as if it was highly predictable. Often we will say about this sort of occurence that "we saw that one coming," or "it was bound to happen sooner or later." We seem to have an intense need to justify, predict and control everything that happens in our chaotic world. If contemporary, western society was to make a summative statement intended to describe our point of view within the realm of science, our scientific raison d'etre, I believe the statement would read something like, "control; that is our science."

 Random Thoughts on Randomness:
  • The perpetual urgency we feel to understand, rationalize, analyze and manipulate our world may very-well be the element of our consciousness that is preventing us from truly and deeply understanding our world.
  • Re. the "order" of our world... what if disorder is actually the natural order and our compulsion toward control and manipulation of everything is what drives us further and further away from this naturally occurring "disordered" state?
  • Releasing our compulsion toward controlling everything may very well create an environment where we are open to possibilities previously considered impossible.
  • Transformation is possible, however, change that transforms is impossible when we operate in a context of right and wrong... true intellect is the willingess to admit that we know little, and that we have everything to learn. The space between right and wrong, and perhaps even more importantly, the space beyond right and wrong contain the undiscovered truths I'm interested in finding.
  • Assuming the world exists in a random and disordered state, positing that this is actually the natural order of our world elicits a cosmic irony.
I'm a teacher, and my intent with this post is to initiate a dialogue exploring the spectrum from randomness to order.

Traditional educational models include many practices designed to control outcomes of the teaching and learning continuum. This is our 'order.' Every day I'm confronted with the responsibility and necessity to evaluate student progress. This may very well be the ultimate challenge for teachers. We continually ask ourselves what our students know, and how they can prove it to us so we may make a statement about what they have achieved; how much knowledge they have absorbed. All of this is juxtapositioned against the standards we have established for this knowledge; our curriculum. By doing so we're essentially establishing control over what students learn, how they learn it and how they display their learning. What if this particular form of order and control process is the wrong way to do it? What would be the alternative? I don't have the answers to either of these questions, but perhaps you do...


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why is it always about the funding?

flickr Cc image via Images_of_Money

In the business of teaching and learning it seems to always be about the money. Whenever a desire to improve the practise or quality of the education system emerges, it isn't long before the calculators are fired up and we're attempting as quickly as we can to put a price on the reform. Not surprisingly, government funding sources propose the cheapest way to achieve the reform goal, and teacher unions demand maximum financial support. This continuum perpetuates every year at budget time and the battle of wits begins; the ministry wants the biggest bang for their buck, and the profession cries foul in its claim that the job can't be done without more cash.

Understanding that politics is politics, (party agendas, personal political aspirations, fiscal realities and the never-ending quest for power are obvious factors that affect not just the funding of education, but every publicly funded institution,) when it comes to education reform, I'm left pondering a different consciousness. What if those of us who are passionate about teaching and learning purposefully asked ourselves what could be done to improve education that wouldn't cost a dime?

Obviously funds are required to support many elements of the education system. Teachers need to get paid, resources need to be supplied and schools need to be built and maintained, however, when it comes to ideas supporting better practise, I would submit that perhaps the best education reforms require no financial support whatsoever.

As intelligent professionals who know tacitly what works and what doesn't in their classrooms and schools, teachers typically integrate and synthesize their philosophical thoughts in an effort to reform their personal practise and refine their craft. I've also had enough professional conversations with my teaching colleagues to know that collectively, we also have a lot to say about how these efforts can be extrapolated to a broader education reform context. I want to hear from any teacher who believes they have an idea that could improve the way teachers teach and students learn, and that doesn't require a penny of funding to do so.

Please share your ideas here, however simple or complex, or you can respond by following me on Twitter @graingered
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