Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wooden Nickels (part 2)

<--Continued from part 1

So, if the zone of proximal development for a large organization is much smaller than that of an individual, then instead of this graphic representing an individual's zone of proximal development:
for an organization, if we make this kind of over simplification, it might look more like this:

But, not all directions an organization focuses it's attention on are equal and as an organization takes steps in one direction that zone of proximal development shifts and gets weighted more heavily on one side or the other. Therefore, over time this graph may look more like this:

and then perhaps like this:

So, as the ideas and values of an organization shift, those who do not shift in the same direction as the organization pose a problem.

and eventually the organization looks more like this:

So, those whose skills, ideas and understanding are outside the grasp of the organization, those who know things that cause others too much cognitive dissonance end up being outsiders. Beyond that, those whose growth goes in the opposite direction of the majority end up seeming like they have "lost it" or become "out of touch." Therefore, if the left side of this graph represents "the cult of efficiency" along with all of it's trappings (standardization, best practices, strict categorization of content, adherence to schedules, top-down control, etc). and the right side represents progressive education (democratic schools, open learning, learner-generated objectives, responsive teaching, etc.) then in a condition where this graph represents the conditions then progressive ideas are not likely to take hold. Those who go out and come back with knowledge or truths from the other side of graph are likely to be like the released prisoner in Plato's Allegory of the Cave. Once they bring that knowledge back to their organization those in the organization will see them as blind and say it is best not to allow anyone up lest they come back without their sight.

Enter policy.

Policy is written largely to guide the direction of growth and/or change for schools. And, with very few exceptions, this policy is written to appease the majority. If the majority see those who have gone to the surface of the cave as having come back without their eyesight then there will be a huge push to draft policy which pushes the majority in the other direction. And, the majority is likely to desire the group take the path of least resistance. Larry Cuban has been writing about this idea for some time. He uses the metaphor of a typhoon to describe "reform" and policy but says that when you get to where the policy gets carried out, in the classroom, change happens very slowly. I think this validates my theory of group zone of proximal development but when you combine the idea of the path of least resistance with this group zone of proximal development policy can and does play a part. If I am a teacher and I have the option to pursue A or B and A is more supported by my organization then I am more likely to pursue A, meaning that B rarely gets considered. Over time this will move that ball further and further in one direction, causing a school system or organization to become unbalanced.

This poses a moral dilemma for those with knowledge and understanding from the right side of this graph who work with organizations on the left side of this graph. If there is a profound and important truth, perhaps one that conflicts with commonly held organizational beliefs (for example, something which would show a widely accepted teaching practice to be a detriment to learning) then there is a moral imperative to relay this information. But, to relay it often means suffering the plight of Plato's prisoner. To speak truth means to be ostracized from one's group and to lead with incremental change means being comfortable with things that are obviously wrong. What ends up happening, then, being morally obligated to tell the others what the shadows on the wall of the cave really are means the only ones who will listen are those on the fringes anyway. So, many different small fringe organizations crop up which move that circle to different sides of the circle and eventually a wedge is driven so far between people of different groups that there is no longer a common language. We become islands, tribes. Rather than make change, we end up with wooden nickels.

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