“Think about every problem, every challenge, we face. The solution to each starts with education.” – George H. W. Bush
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Do you want to improve the world? Do you want to improve education? Want to start your own school? I do.
I have been working towards this goal for at least 10 years now, through teaching, curriculum creation, and doing administrative roles with the Twin Rivers Unified School District and through active outside learning, study, and thought. That is why I have started the Effective Education Projects, which include a myriad of individual projects that are working to build a better world. But I’m just beginning, and it seems it has taken me 10 years to get to the beginning.
If you are similar to me in wanting to change education (or simply help people learn things that can help humanity), then I will use the term “education system designer” or simply “designer” to refer to you. I use this term “designer” to mean that you have the ability to design (within constraints) the methods in which you share information with others and you have influence over how others may do this as well. This empowerment that you have, that you may not realize, is important, and requires the ability to look at the bigger picture. You may be a teacher, an administrator, a student, a parent, a business person, an actor, a documentary producer, an author, and/or acting within another role.
What I will be presenting in 26 postings, and ultimately in a book based upon these postings, are not inherently the answers to the questions about how to make education more effective. It is a way of making a map of an education system, such as a school, so that the school can better understand itself, and see where it may be missing components, or not have them as congruent as they could be. This mapping contains what I believe are the key mental models needed to ask the right questions. Along the way, I will also be sharing a little about what questions and answers I have found. And then future postings/books will detail those more.
These 26 concepts, corresponding to each letter of the English alphabet, will cover 4 major areas:
- A to G contains the overall components of teaching, learning, and improvement
- H through M, are the stages an education system has with students (and in fact with all participants)
- N through W, are 9 ways of viewing components of any organization, with a focus on looking at them in education
- X, Y, and Z are the “dimensions” of the map, each being a continuum of how to look at a system from different levels.
In system theory, it is said that it is somewhat arbitrary about how we define the boundaries between components (sub-systems) and how components are categorized. Thus, there are many ways that many philosophers and authors have defined things, and each of their frameworks are not necessarily more or less accurate than the others*. (And it seems that every educational author, now including me, tries to make their own model!) And thus, I do not claim that what I have defined as the A to Z of Education is the only way to understand or map the design of education systems and schools.
And in some ways the components of A to Z of Education are contrived to match with the English alphabet, and the arbitrary order that the English alphabet has been defined to be in. But, building meaning is important, and using the alphabet as a mnemonic device is a benefit, and the letters were able to fit the ideas sufficiently well.
Further, as already stated, the A to Z, on their own, do not answer questions about how to make effective education systems. In fact, the A to Z will be similar to the alphabet. It will be the components that can be put together to have a system, similar to how letters are put together to have written words in a language. And in fact, the components of the A to Z can make ineffective education as well as effective education, and it can even make different systems that teach opposite lessons.But, the components are always there, even if they are being performed poorly, or not leading to the results the education designer wants. By having a framework to use as a map, the components can be seen more clearly, which then can lead to improvement in effectiveness.
The A to Z are mostly generalized, thus “T” will not be for “Teacher”, and “S” will not be for “Student”, but instead you will find “P” for “Participant”, as in reality participants take on different roles, and good teachers learn from students, and students may teach other students as well (and will probably be better off for it!). Further, in the broad scheme, our mass media is as much an education system, as our schools are, and the A to Z should fit that type of paradigm and other education systems that are not commonly recognized as education systems, as much as it can fit a traditional “brick and mortar” school. (Because of this, I will generally use the term “education system” instead of “school”, but if it makes you feel more comfortable, you can substitute the word “school” for that phrase when you read it.)
So, you may ask: if there are other frameworks that have accuracy, and if the A to Z framework doesn’t even guarantee that an effective system can be created, why should you care about reading this, and why am I writing this? I believe this is a valid question, as science grows from open-minded skepticism. And the answer to this question is important to understand: The deeper we understand the principles and components of a system, the more likely we are to be able to put those components together in such a way that it can produce more effective education for a better humanity. This A to Z framework has sharpened my mind’s thoughts about education, and I hope it will help your mind to have a place to put concepts and ideas, to help with whatever forays you have with educational design.
Some of these components may seem obvious, but as Paul Simon has said “Why deny the obvious?” The knowledge of our world has improved because those things that seemed obvious, such as the thought that the world was only made up of earth, water, fire, and wind, have been more deeply explored and understood. Similarly, by understanding the components of education systems, the foundation is constructed to be able to build a fuller system.
The A to Z framework on its own is descriptive, and not directly prescriptive. In philosophy it would be said, that it is not normative, nor attempts to describe what ought to be done. And my aim is to have this writing be helpful to those who may have different beliefs than I do, and thus we may create entirely different systems of education than I am working on creating.
But, for purposes of explaining the A to Z, it is important to give examples along the way, and these examples will be more normative from my personal perspective. There are two education systems that I have actively been involved with, that I will use as examples: Twin Rivers Unified School District and the Effective Education Projects.
They are in very different stages of existence. Twin Rivers Unified School District was formed in 2008 as the merger of several school districts in the northern Sacramento region of California. It has had a bumpy road, to say the least. While individual staff at its different schools have been recognized at the state and national level for doing extraordinary things, the district has also been the focus of two grand jury investigations, has many lawsuits it is dealing with, is financially troubled due to major state budget cuts, and from many news reports, it is clear that it has systemic problems. Because of these events, there have been several changes in leadership, including the retirement of the past superintendent, the deputy superintendent being placed on administrative leave, and in recent elections, most of the school board makeup changed. This offers a potential opportunity to have a systemic redesign that could change a lot of things, but there is equal or greater chance that things will not change. I use it as a personal example, because I hope the ideas presented here, can help all participants have more tools to work towards improvement.
The Effective Education Projects can not be seen as a success either. Not because they have failed, but because for the most part they have not yet started. They have been ideas in my head, which has included a lot of contribution of ideas from others. I am working to hopefully learn from the mistakes other systems have made, and be able to avoid those, and make novel mistakes instead :-). And even from these new mistakes (whatever they will be), I believe that with good system design, it is possible to use them for improvement. One of the key features that I think can help the Effective Education Projects, is by having a relevant and accurate theoretical framework, which I believe the “A to Z” is, it will increase the overall chance of success for each project.
So my next posting will start with: A for Aim…
* – Although, depending upon our beliefs about what makes something accurate or valued, some models sometimes can be judged more or less accurate than other models. But that is jumping ahead a little in the framework, as that will be saved for B for Beliefs.