Home' Teacher : September 2009 Contents 36 TEACHER SEPTEMBER 2009
When we believe 'this is the way things are,'
we merely tinker with what's wrong, chang-
ing some things on the periphery. An alterna-
tive is to refuse to accept what fate, history,
the system, our superiors, 'they' or whatever
have dealt us, and to think and act boldly.
Liberating the imagination and passion of
everyone in our community is essential if we
want to move forward. This isn't some new
form of radicalism, but a pragmatic call to
take responsibility for creating our world.
Short-term thinking and incremental change
within existing paradigms and worldviews
simply won't solve the seemingly intractable
problems of society or schools.
There's a human tendency to feel comfort-
able with present systems and beliefs, so we
try to change as little as possible; the future
is a mere extension of the present. And then
something happens like the series of coordi-
nated suicide attacks by Al-Qaeda upon the
United States on 11 September, 2001. This
was in no way an incremental variant of what
was happening on September 10. As a result,
travellers no longer felt safe on aeroplanes or
visiting some countries, airlines failed and
ou r nation and allies found it necessary to
go to war. Similarly, since the financial cri-
sis, we're no longer confident about our jobs,
ou r investments, ou r superan nuation or ou r
futures. Can we therefore be sure that things
as they exist today will continue?
Such changes disrupt our lives and pro-
foundly distu rb our thinking. 'The know n'
turns out to be not as known as we had
assumed. The comfortable linear progress
of society is, it turns out, dictated by ser-
endipity, complexity and potential chaos.
Even our cherished democracy has substan-
tial flaws -- consider the way our political
processes lead our governments to enable
unsustainable growth -- so that democracy
becomes subverted by forces whose interests
come before those of the people.
Instead of bu rying our heads in the sand,
we can use our understanding to free our-
selves from past mindsets and incremental
change. We can do that by giving weight to
the present and its problems, for example,
inequality in Australia, without necessarily
accepting that the present is 'just the way
If we want to think afresh, we can use our
values as a starting point. Instead of com-
petitive relationships where everyone is self-
focused, could we develop symbiotic relation-
ships where we go beyond acknowledging
our dependence on each other, to seeking to
develop relationships of mutual benefit? Could
we move on from schools as static institutions
to schools as dynamic ecosystems, organic
networks of learners and teachers? Instead
of planning for results, could we be navigat-
ing towards realising potential in terms of
the growth of the whole person? Instead of
the simplicity of Cartesian knowledge, can
we move to handling quantum knowledge
and complexity theory? Instead of personal
mastery in terms of Year 12 results, could
we set network mastery as a community of
supportive learners as our goal?
Consider the current inequity in edu-
cation. In Australia, there is significant
inequality in the outcomes from school-
ing, not just between sectors like private
and public, but also within each sector.
There has been significant money spent to
reduce the gap between high-performing
and low-performing students in Australia,
but it remains unacceptably large. Given the
complexity of the social context, schools, as
they are funded and focused today, aren't
able to deliver opportunity and relevance
in socially disadvantaged communities. We
need to rethink the whole question of deliv-
ering learning in such a way that all students
benefit, not just the few. I don't believe that
league tables and other such bureaucratic cre-
ations will solve this. We need to be looking
for new initiatives that may not even come
from within existing schools, given that the
parameters of the problem are as diverse as
family background, com munity mores, insti-
tutional a rrangements, the labour market,
individual abilities and learning styles.
Incrementalism is how we naturally think
and it's getting us nowhere. We have closed
system thinking, offering students basically
more of the same, if with increasingly higher
quality. We need to break away from incre-
mentalism by envisioning, choosing and
then working towards a better future; refus-
ing to accept that what exists can be made
to work merely with some tinkering.
The past, present and our possible future
don't flow in some linear, sequential way.
It's important to understand and value both
our past and our present, as well as to define
where we want to go into the future. Equally
it's important not to restrict the future to
being a simple extension, an incremental
variant, of the present.
Let's be bold in our visions and recognise
that incrementalism is not enough. T
David Loader is an education consultant
and Associate Professor in the Faculty of
Education at the Unive rsity of Melbourne.
His latest book is Jousting for the New
Generation: Challenges to contemporary
schooling, published by ACER Press.
Incrementalism is not enough
SHORT-TERM THINKING AND INCREMENTAL CHANGE WITHIN EXISTING PARADIGMS AND
WORLDVIEWS SIMPLY WON'T SOLVE THE SEEMINGLY INTRACTABLE PROBLEMS OF SOCIETY
OR SCHOOLS, SAYS DAVID LOADER.
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