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Read a Post for School Reform: The Flatworm in a Flat World: From Entropy to Renewal through Indigenous Invention
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Posted By: Allen Lambert on April 18, 2009
I cannot resist some critique:

“Our world has drastically changed from the world of the past. Yet, there is one organization in today’s world that has changed little from when it was created over 150 years ago”

Many things have changed, some superficial, some not. And some changes are at the periphery but not at the core, in appearance but not in substance. Another institution which has not changed much is religion, especially the dominant Christian church. Still another is the form of our governance. Not all change is good.
Schools and classrooms were not invented “150 years ago” but go back millennia. Contemporary schooling (in American, Europe, and Asia) exhibits significant differences (as well as similarities) compared to schooling in mid-nineteenth century.
100 years ago there was little, if any, inclusion, special education, and programs for “at risk” or gifted and talented children. There was little fine arts curriculum or organized athletics and other extra-curricular activities. 100 years ago the vast majority of schools were small, one-room, multi-grade situations, teaching only grades 1 through 8 (no pre-K, no K, no high school). Etc.

“Yet, learning in this organization has devolved away from the ideas of imagination and invention that have benefited humankind throughout history.”

I’m sorry, that is not historical fact either. Most learning, today and yesterday, here and everywhere, has served the function of transmitting accumulated culture (norms, beliefs, knowledge). Socialization and enculturation have been and remain the primary purpose of educational activities in all cultures. The US was the first to make “liberal arts” and personal development a general goal for the masses; and the US still promotes that goal more than any other large, complex nation-state.

“This organization—the school—is and has been in a state of entropy.”

ALL organizations exist in a “state of entropy” by virtue of the fact that they persist/survive – maintain structure – only by using energy and matter. What do the authors really mean (concretely) by this abstract assertion?

Does “current educational reform efforts intensify this state of entropy”?

That depends on what measures of entropy one uses. We would probably agree on some and disagree on others.

“Organizational entropy occurs when energy ... is not used inside the organization to respond to the environment. The result—doing more of the same—no longer accomplishes the required "work" of the organization. Entropy explains an organization's declining effectiveness, decreasing power, and increasing disorder in accomplishing its intended purposes”

Merely “respond” ( to some environment) is not sufficient. Anything can be a “response”. Adaptation is the standard concept because it implies a successful response. But then there is the problem of defining “the environment” and what constitutes “successful” adaptation (not to mention what constitutes the “work” of an institution).
Since schools persist there is obviously some kind of “response” and one which is “successful” in certain ways.
Since entropy is an indicator of dissipation and disorder and since schools persist in highly structured condition, entropy does not seem like a concept very useful in “explaining”anything about schools. Indeed, entropy is a descriptive rather than explanatory term If American schools are somehow more “entropic” now than previously or compared to other systems, then we need an explanation of what produces that increasing entropy. But first we would have to establish via measurement that our schools are in fact more entropic (disorganizing, disorderly, random, etc.).
And what are the “intended purposes” and proper “work” of schooling? Whose definition? Determined how?
Most of the talk about “21st century” in education is based on a narrow and highly optimistic view of the future. Yet there are numerous possible futures, mostly “dark”. And future for whom? If the rate of job expansion is highest in low wage, low skill work, then how will all the curriculum emphasis on math, science, technology, and critical thinking, etc., make much difference?
There is a good argument to be made that any increasing entropy in education is more a function of professional academic educators being out of touch with environmental realities and future probabilities than of anyone else.

Maybe “indigenous” education – as that term is generally utilized by anthropologists – is not so oriented to “imagination and invention” as asserted by H&M, but is more tradition oriented (as well as practical or vocational). And emphasis on continuity of culture (tradition) actually contributes to social order (less entropy).

Regularity II: Teaching and Learning as the Transmission of Knowledge.
The norm of teacher talk, information transmission, and student passivity19 makes sense if children know little when they come to school and can and have to be given much knowledge to learn and develop. However, this norm is also challenged by new research evidence. All children already have in their minds an abundance of "prior knowledge" when and after they enter school.

Well, yes, children do indeed need to learn – knowledge and skills and culture, etc. Without that need, it is pretty hard to justify the massive taking of taxes from citizens for the support of schools.
Do children arrive at school with stuff “already in their minds”? Yes, but much of it is faulty and however much it is, it is very small compared to what they will need as adults. Few children learn relevant systematic knowledge and skill on their own, hence teachers.
Could teaching/learning improve by understanding better what exists in the minds of children? We like to think so. But we might start with a re-examination of “indigenous” non-formal education wherein children learn by doing – as apprentices, etc. – and through ritual. Again, a good case can be made that part of the alleged entropy of modern education is induced by “modern” or “post-modern” philosophies of education. Did not education succeed for millennia without the benefit of modernism?

The complexity of the schooling enterprise and the knowledge that we now have about human learning and organizational change do not match the simplistic, linear one-way transmission process of the research, development, and implementation model of current reform efforts.

Perhaps, but is that not an indictment of modernity itself? Of the approach of science, engineering, and technology – the very future for which schools are supposed to prepare our children?

T. Allen Lambert

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 Critique by Allen Lambert on April 18, 2009
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