Last week I had the opportunity to represent the Agency by Design project at ACOE’s Integrated Learning Conference, this year titled, Inventing our Future. I taught two workshops for teachers, “Observation, Elaboration, and Maker Empowerment,” and “Using Systems Thinking to Re-Design Public Education.” To see my post about the former workshop click here.
How can we use systems thinking to re-design public education? How can systems thinking help young people make sense of and develop a sensitivity to the world around them? As a group we first defined “system” and through guided photos started to identify systems within the public education system. Groups identified one system to work with and started mapping out their thinking around the parts and relationships to the whole. Later they moved into thinking about the actors and motivations within those systems. I immediately realized that the workshop title was a lie and that there was no way we were going to have time to re-design anything. The first step is understanding and systems thinking was bringing us to a deeper level of knowing and making connections. At the same time there was confusion. About 30 minutes into the workshop a participant asked one of the most important and challenging questions a teacher can answer. “Wait, why are we doing this?” I froze and she immediately apologized, but we all knew this was critical. I paused to reflect on my answer and responded that we’re doing this because:
1) Systems thinking promotes high order thinking. When I practice systems thinking I am forced to stretch myself into becoming a better thinker in the world. I thought back to Jeffrey Andrade’s morning talk that day and asked myself internally, “Can that be standardized?” No. Good. Because anything that CAN be standardized is not worth teaching, in my opinion.
2) Because systems thinking is a scaffold and tool on the path towards empowerment. It builds a sensitivity to the design of systems in the world around us and has a built-in structure to help us notice and question the parts and relationships inside them. Ultimately the goal is to have enough of these experiences with systems thinking to re-imagine, re-design, and re-make the systems in our world that do not work.