Social Legacy Systems:  How They Block Change and Prevent Progress:  Part 1- Education

KuhnCycle_BasicCycleAccording to Thomas Kuhn when a paradigm shifts, you cannot be successful doing what you did in the old paradigm.  In a new paradigm, you must obey new rules to be successful.  Our culture and world are going through one of the greatest paradigm shifts in history.  It has been happening now for four generations starting with the Baby Boom generation.  The transition or swing generations have been Generation X and Generation Y.   These later two generations have been stuck between paradigms.  The final or new generation has been somewhat appropriately called Generation Z.  Generation Z *(See Footnote) represents the end of the paradigm shift.

The rules and cultural norms that have traditionally applied to: family, education, government, employment and law are all legacy based and present significant barriers to change.  In computers, a legacy system refers to either hardware or software that is out of date but is difficult to replace because of its widespread use.  I am using the term as it is known in the IT world, to refer to our outdated social and economic systems that are difficult to replace because of first: their widespread use and second: because of attitudes and policies that make it difficult to either change or replace them.

(Listen to Tracy Chapman sing  “The Times They Are A Changin.”  A song made famous by Bob Dylan)

Generation Z must create new rules for success and happiness to reign in this new order.  The emerging social and business systems will march to a different set of norms and standards.  Those systems that fail to change will gradually erode and die.  Their deaths will not be without casualties or bloodless.  Already we see the decay and decline of our antiquated educational system.  Our justice and prison systems are not far behind in obsolescence.

Legacy ChangesIronically, the Baby Boomers started the paradigm shift and are now the major roadblocks to change.  As Baby Boomers age, the systems they are most comfortable with (What I am calling the legacy systems) are increasingly dysfunctional.   In this blog, I want to talk about how the traditional systems have become barriers to change and the ways that these systems will need to be changed in order for Generation Z to achieve the success and happiness undoubtedly their parents want for them.  Indeed, the one thing that has not changed in six thousand years is the desire by parents for their children to live in a better world then they did.

What is the New Paradigm and what was the Old Paradigm?

The change in paradigms is embodied in the following dominant forces:

  1. From an Analog to a Digital world
  2. From Family centered to Child centered
  3. From Independence to Interdependence
  4. From Text to Visual based
  5. From Linear to Nonlinear sequencing

Each of the above factors has played a major role in the decline of social systems and economic systems in the USA if not also in many other parts of the world.  However, before we look at these individual factors, let me repeat a very important fact that is often ignored.  The changes in our systems will happen whether we want them to or not.  They are as inevitable as the weather changing or the mountains eroding.  There is nothing anyone can do to stop them.  Examine any of the five factors noted above and ask yourself “how likely is it to be turned back or changed back to what we once knew in bygone years?”  The only choice that we as a society and culture have is whether we want to try to restrain these changes or whether we want to help facilitate them and make the transition smoother and easier.

The old system and its rules and norms are barriers to change.  Laws and policies that support the old legacy systems now have the vice of creating friction and turmoil.  Just like two tectonic plates sliding over each other, when smooth transition is not permitted, one result may be an earthquake that shatters reality with its violent upheaval.  We are seeing many examples of both the inevitable frictions and resulting earthquakes in many areas of society and business today.  Sometimes, the changes are smooth but as often as not they are violent and chaotic.

Let’s look at two of what I am calling our legacy systems to see how these explosions and cultural clashes are playing out.  We will start with our education system (which is now quite similar all over the world).

How Does the Education System Block Change?

Paradigm-ShiftIn the late nineteen century, the American education system was one of the most progressive in the world.  Offering access to people that before could never have gone to school or college, the system was a reflection of many of the emerging industrial era virtues.

  • A mostly democratic system of mass education
  • Standardized learning
  • Linear and hierarchical movement through a graduated system of grades, curriculum and tests
  • Experts in various fields who could bring ideas and knowledge to a centralized location
  • Easy availability of texts and reading material
  • Credentials essential for the new Industrial Age that was emerging

For nearly one hundred and fifty years, the elements of the Education or School paradigm were beneficial and coveted by many other nations of the world.  Witness, the vast numbers of foreign students who came to attend Higher Education in the USA.  The factors making our education system a success in the early 20th Century have changed.  The need for an education system is still there but the “School” system that now dominates the “education” paradigm is hopelessly obsolete.   Each one of the five forces has played a role in this obsolescence.    Let us look briefly at the role that each has played in degrading our present education system.

  1. From an Analog to a Digital world

analog to digitalStudents now carry as much information in their ubiquitous smart phones as in all the encyclopedias in the world combined.  Many schools that once banned IPADS and Smart Phones are beginning to allow them in the curriculum.  Attempts to control what students can see are rather fruitless and doomed to fail.  (The 12-3-14 Casa Grande Paper reported today that the FBI seized 20 boxes of an LA school’s iPad documents.  “Hundreds of students initially given the IPADs last school year found ways to bypass security installations, downloading games and freely surfing the web.”  HORRORS (My comment)

2.  From Family centered to Child centered

family versus child centeredSingle parent families are now nearly 40 percent of all households.  About 4 out 10 children were born to unwed mothers in 2013.  https://singlemotherguide.com/single-mother-statistics.  Children are now the center of attention in many households.  Whereas the family was once the most important component, children are increasingly the center of the family system.  Evidence for this is numerous.  From Soccer Moms to Helicopter Moms to parents that blame teachers for all that is wrong in the school but would never blame their children.  As an educator for over 40 years now, I have seen this shift firsthand.  Today, in all too many cases, if the child misbehaves or acts out, it is the teachers or schools fault.

  1. From Independence to Interdependence

independenceAmerica has always prided itself on rugged independence.  Many examples exist to show that much of this was image and not reality. Nevertheless, from individual grades to individual tests and individual merits of achievement, our schools have reflected this standard in its policies and procedures.  Sharing information with others in school whether on a test or writing assignment is usually labeled as cheating.

In business as in school, the individual performance ethic also reigned supreme.  This has gradually but inexorably been changing.  Today, the team norm has become increasingly dominant in the work place as we see that the old saying “two heads are better than one” is an essential platitude for innovation and creativity.   Schools are still lagging considerably behind the marketplace on the value they place on team work, cooperation and interdependence.

  1. From Text to Visual based

Visual-Tsunamis-Ketchum-first-pageFrom the early Jane’s readers to English Classics to modern stories like Harry Potter, the school system is dominated by a text based paradigm which has made the text-book the center of learning for most classes. This is true from kindergarten to Ph.D. programs and is of course reflected in ideas like Common Core and standardized curriculum.   At the college level, I have been told that I had to use a textbook because everyone else was using a textbook.  Recently we have seen that most hard cover textbooks have become e-books but this is a minor change and does not reflect the real underlying fact that kids today are increasingly living in a visual world.

Examples of this change abound:  Windows based interface systems, Smart Phone icons, You-Tube videos, documentaries, and just about every famous novel in history has been rendered into some form of video.  Children today are visual learners while the school system has standardized on text books, written assignments and term papers.  I wish I had a dollar for everyone that has said “Kids today do not know how to read or write.”  While, they may not express themselves in ink and papyrus, one only has to look at YouTube to see the abundance of musical and visual creativity now being displayed by young people today.

  1. From Linear to Nonlinear sequencing

non-linear-narrativeSchools are like factories with assembly lines. Everyone moves together at the same pace doing a standardized set of procedures designed for maximum efficiency.  Of course, these procedures were wonderful during the Industrial Era and propelled the USA to world leadership in manufacturing and production.  They also made the USA education system the envy of the world.  Today, these concepts are obsolete in business and also in education.  Just as businesses are moving to mass customization, so our schools need to move to customized learning curriculum designed for team of learners with similar interests and goals.  Our school system is now a testament to inefficiency, boredom and frustration for more than half of all students attending.

Conclusions:

Why are children dropping out of school or getting pregnant in school at horrendous rates?  I think the answer is simple:  School is boring and not meeting their needs. If in a business, your customers stopped coming, you would assume that something was wrong with your products or services. This does not seem to have occurred to either politicians or educators.  Perhaps, it is a case that “The fish is the last one to see the water.”  Schools have become obsolete.  The American education system now serves well only a small percentage of the students that enter the system.

Drop Out RatesMany will survive the system only to be glad when they finally get out.  Critical thinking is not well tolerated and the system does not accept challenges to its fundamental premises. Nevertheless, every school shooter represents a distorted but none the less serious challenge to the education system in America.  There will be many who ask “Is he crazy, how can he say that?”  One only has to understand the concept of a chaotic system to know that in any system that is undergoing decay, outliers or special causes will spring up that do not seem to be part of the system or that seem to have no relationship to the other elements in the system.  These special causes are all part of a normal system of variation.  In systems with a high degree of instability or inconsistency, the amount of variation results in increasingly greater episodes of chaos and breakdowns.   Looking for reasons for these “special causes” only results in speculation and frustration and failure.

No single theorist has painted a profile or single underlying reason for the increasing violence in our schools.  I submit, the schools and their dysfunctional paradigms are ultimately the cause of this violence.  If this is true, we will see more and more examples of such violence as our school system gradually deteriorates and becomes increasingly less relevant.  No amount of police in the hallways or concealed weapons will stop this inevitable and remorseless deterioration.   We are well past the time when we need a new education paradigm for the 21st Century.

In Part 2 of “Social Legacy Systems:  How They Block Change and Prevent Progress”, I would like to show how our legacy Prison and Judicial System has become a negative and restraining element in our present social system.  The result has been escalating and unsustainable increases in prison costs, legal costs, police costs and costs associated with our judicial system.

Time for Questions:

What is your opinion?  Do we need to change? Why or why not? Why are so many people only interested in half measures of change?  What will it take to change our education system?  Are you willing to work or financially support the changes that are needed? Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” ― Meister Eckhart

* Footnote:

Gen Z, Gen Y, baby boomers – a guide to the generations by Harry Wallop

 

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Hillary versus Bernie:  Why I Don’t Feel the Bern! | Aging Capriciously

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