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School Reform: The Flatworm in a Flat World: From Entropy to Renewal through Indigenous Invention

by Paul E. Heckman & Viki L. Montera - 2009

Background/Context: Current research on learning, organizational change, and the context of the 21st century yields insight into the needed fundamental reforms in our educational learning environments. Despite these new insights, schooling and school reform in the 21st century continue to be grounded in ideas based on the industrial model of the 20th century. Reform efforts in today’s No Child Left Behind environment reify static ideas about schooling, resulting in organizational entropy.

Purpose: In this article, we compare current schooling practices and reform efforts to the mechanistic industrial model and illustrate why this paradigm is no longer sufficient in this “flat world.” Schooling and school reform in the 21st century continue to be approached as if these are a flatworm capable replicating itself. We argue that a new paradigm is needed—one that builds on current knowledge and human resources, one that is created by those who work and live in a school or community—which we have called Indigenous Invention.

Research Design: Indigenous Invention grows from new conceptions of learning, cognition, and development, and our work in schools and communities during the past 16 years. Examples of Indigenous Invention presented here come from a much larger case study and long-term action research project in five urban schools and communities.

Conclusion/Recommendations: Three areas are presented. First, we examine ideas that currently guide schooling practices and explore why these ideas have resulted in a decline of educational organizational vitality and are no longer sufficient for our in-school, after-school, and preschool programs. We suggest using new knowledge about human learning, cognition, and development to bring organizational energy and renewal to educational institutions. Second, the power of this new knowledge will not be realized with conventional school change models that urge fidelity in implementing packages and procedures developed far away from the school and its neighborhood. Replication may work for the flatworm. It does not work in complex systems like educational institutions. Third, we present the process of Indigenous Invention as one that holds promise in moving our schools from entropy to renewal.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 111 Number 5, 2009, p. 1328-1351
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14689, Date Accessed: 6/14/2021 11:34:56 AM

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About the Author
  • Paul Heckman
    University of California, Davis
    PAUL E. HECKMAN has taught at the elementary and secondary levels and served as a middle and senior high school assistant principal. He has also held professorships and administrative positions at the University of Southern Maine, the University of Arizona, and the University of Washington. Currently, he is professor and associate dean in the School of Education at the University of California, Davis. His research interests focus on educational change and invention in urban centers in the United States. These projects are designed to encourage and understand the conditions for educational renewal and invention in schools in the greater Sacramento area and in an after-school program in the City of Los Angeles, LA’s BEST. Lessons learned from some of these experiences appear in articles and book chapters, and two books, The Courage to Change: Stories From Successful School Reform and a soon-to-be-published work by Heckman and Montera tentatively entitled Waking Up: The Power of Communities and Their Schools.
  • Viki Montera
    University of California, Davis
    VIKI L. MONTERA has been a part of the education enterprise as a teacher, teachers’ union leader and staff member, school principal, and educational reformer. While at the University of Arizona, she directed a long-term reform project in five schools and communities in urban Tucson. From this work grew the process and principles of Indigenous Invention. Her commitment to creating engaging and democratic learning environments for all children and adults drives her work. She is now a faculty member at the University of California, Davis, where she is undertaking the expansion of the School of Education’s undergraduate program, teaching graduate courses on leadership and education reform, and continuing her research and writing about creating powerful learning centers for children, teachers, and families.
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