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Leadership and Activism, Philosophical Meanderings

Change from Within vs Change from Without

This is cross-posted from my Philly Teacher blog. I can’t wait to hear my fellow co-opers thoughts!

Until recently I counted myself among those change-minded folks who believed that true change could be enacted (and must be at some level) enacted from within ‘the system.’ Amid the discussions of many homeschoolers and unschoolers, who believe that it is time to throw the whole system out, I have always argued that there has to be some people who stay within the system to push for change.

After making it halfway through Disrupting Class, I’m beginning to form a new point of view. What if it wasn’t about throwing out the baby with the bath water? What if it was about meeting the needs of those ‘non-consumers,’–the homeschoolers, the unschoolers, and any other learners for whom the current system as it stands does not work–and making this new way of learning so good and so effective that the ‘mainstream’ had no choice but to embrace it?

It’s already happening in the form of online schools and classes and in the huge number of people who have chosen to homeschool their children and have created networks of other homeschoolers. What about the fact that these families can now provide access to knowledge and information to their children that they previously could not due to the amazing learning opportunities (free MIT courses!) one can find on the Internet.

I have always been against throwing out the whole system, mostly because I’ve seen what happens when people completely disrupt students, teachers, families and communities through school closings and upheaval through throwing out what was done and imposing a new way of doing things.

However, if a new way of doing things becomes so irresistible and begins to play a part in the existing system, then there is a chance that this new way of doing things can become the way we do things without upheaval of families, students, teachers and communities.

Christensen and Horn use the metaphor of the Apple PC and the huge DEC Corporation to explain how this works. If DEC is the school system as it stands, then the online schools, unschooling, homeschooling trends are the Steve Jobs of education. Apple met the need of people who never consumed DEC products in the first place and then slowly took over the market.

What I do know is that I want the next step I take to be toward a disruptive model that will help fine-tune the new way we educate students in this country in the future.

What do you think? Change from within or change from without?


13 thoughts on “Change from Within vs Change from Without

  1. MB, This is exactly our change model over at IDEA

    See you in Philly!


    Posted by Kirsten | January 17, 2012, 7:59 am
  2. People in the system need to decide what they can support and what they must oppose – but there are certainly decisions we can make as individuals to organize and act in ways that put pressure on the system.

    For example, I’d like to see a kind of homeostasis and symbiosis exist between public school systems and, say, tuition-free, community-based schooling that’s underwritten by some mix of philanthropy and sponsorship. I’d like to see those schools drain away enough students so that public schools can retool their work to serve smaller numbers of students better, in terms of providing public school students with sustained opportunities for inquiry, democracy, and community – all free of traditional scheduling, staffing, and tracking. If we can get to a place of partnership, rather than competition, between traditional public schools and all other alternatives, then we stand a better chance of teaching to every learner than we do now.

    But such an effort and partnership would require upheaval approached as opportunity. I’m curious, Mary Beth – is your proposal to send the non-consumers elsewhere and to let people happy with traditional education stay in traditional education? Does that kind of separation create a kind of pedagogical gap between consumers and non-consumers? And does such a gap in any way benefit the kids in traditional schools? Given the opportunity to enact change, is fine-tuning that to which we should aspire?

    All the best,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 17, 2012, 9:40 am
    • Clark Aldrich is trying his best to bridge that pedagogical gap in his book Unschooling Rules

      Mr. Clark’s point is “These homeschoolers and unschoolers are families that have decided not to partake in today’s K-12 school system because they, using a variety of calculations, believe the costs outweigh the benefits. They are striving to evolve new approaches, not from the once-removed vantage of politicians or board members or even smart individuals grinding through the Sisyphean task of trying to get a few policies changed (that is a pretty accurate description of me btw), but by abandoning the model and starting over. Almost exclusively, they currently represent education’s real research and development.” Clark states, “(t)his book, whose name is both an oxymoron and a double entendre, is the result of (my) research to identify and frame the guidelines that these home- and unschoolers are uncovering in childhood education….(I)t will not be the governments, or their school systems, or others of their institutions that will drive real innovation in reconstructing childhood education. It will be, as it already is, the homeschoolers and unschoolers.”

      So where does all of this lead to? What to make of it?

      Unfortunately, this book does not get any attention in the system.

      In Disrupting Class, the non-consumer’s solution keeps getting better and better, attracting more and more consumers, until finally DEC goes away.

      However, nobody wants public education to go away, we want to “reconstruct” it as Mr. Aldrich says, based on the very best of what homeschooling and unschooling offers. (If you have not reviewed his 55 rules, they are spot on). But something is missing in the public education ecosystem that does not encourage and nurture this reconstruction even though the walls are falling all around us.

      Posted by timmcclung | January 17, 2012, 11:01 am
      • Maybe the book didn’t get much play in the system because it denies anyone in the system can make much a difference in the lives and learning of kids.

        I resist narratives that privilege one set of educators over another in that I believe all educators can make the decision to transform schooling either by leaving the system for an alternative or by staying in the system to subvert it. Do all progressive educators in public schools succeed in radicalizing every bit of every day? No, but it’s disingenuous to suggest that all homeschoolers or unschoolers do so.

        We’re in a big mess together. We have a lot to learn from one another and our kids. Teachers in traditional schools who want to learn from homeschoolers and unschoolers can do so (I do so) and homeschoolers and unschoolers can work to transform public schools for the kids left in them (one of my mentors does).

        Symbiosis. Community. Organicism. Rhizomes. Networks. Coöps. None of this rhetoric bears up if those of us using it exclude one another from the possibilities of transforming education for all kids.

        Re-title that book and re-frame its research and polemic as something like, “How to talk with your kids’ teachers about learning” – or “How to talk with your students’ parents about learning” – or “How to help your kid talk with his teacher about learning” – and we’re in business together.

        The best of learning is the best of learning. CoöpCatalyst is a place where we can come together in community to explore learning in all its ambiguity and possibility for change in diverse places. We should be careful of soft attacks on one another, as well as of sharp comments. We shouldn’t reserve our skepticism of our ideas or our celebrations of one another.

        I apologize for the times I have seemed unwelcoming and I appreciate the continued opportunity to learn from and with you all.

        All the best,

        Posted by Chad Sansing | January 17, 2012, 1:52 pm
        • Good points. I was not trying to come across in a confrontational manner. Rather, as you say, tap into what Mr. Aldrich believes is the best of learning that we can take away from homeschoolers/unschoolers (55 rules).

          I really like how you re-titled the book to be more about solutions.


          Posted by timmcclung | January 18, 2012, 12:00 pm
        • Onwards together –

          Posted by Chad Sansing | January 18, 2012, 12:43 pm
      • Tim, I would argue that Christensen is not saying that public education will go away in Disrupting Class. Instead, he is stating that public education *as we know it* may go away. While DEC went away, computing did not–it just kept going in a different form. In addition, I would not expect the public education System to encourage reconstruction. I would, however, expect individuals within the System to do so, as the unschoolers and homeschoolers are doing.

        I would also argue that it’s important that the efforts and experiences of homeschoolers and unschoolers should be documented and studied just as any approach should be. That is how we learn what works when educating kids. However, we can’t assume that it is a magic bullet for *all* students. Specifically, students whose homes are terrible places of violence and abuse.

        Thanks for sharing the book!

        Posted by marybethhertz | January 19, 2012, 7:22 am
    • Thanks for your thoughts, Chad. I never considered the fact that when more students choose alternatives, class size and school size in the traditional public school system would decrease.

      I also had not thought about a pedagogical gap between consumers and non-consumers, but I would argue that these kinds of gaps already exist. I guess disruption theory as it applies to education would make that gap larger. What I wonder is that, if the traditional public schools lose enrollment and become smaller and smaller, will they eventually disappear? Is the gap unavoidable in the name of change? Would the public school system begin to resemble its competition/other models as it loses enrollment, and therefore (according to our current funding system)money in order to remain viable?

      I also am wondering if class size would actually go down. Would the effect, instead, be that schools would close due to lack of enrollment, with schools combining populations in order to stay economically viable?

      Posted by marybethhertz | January 19, 2012, 7:15 am
      • “Economically viable” means different things in different economic and political climates. If public schools faced robust competition that significantly impacted enrollment, I would think that the competitors’ staffing formulas and student-to-teacher ratios would not be the ones we use now. Given an opportunity to radically revise the size of schools and classes, I hope that we would find the political will to do so, especially if our model was clearly losing “market share.” School size and class size aren’t everything, but I think smaller schools and classes offer more flexibility – or a perception thereof – for alternative methods of teaching and learning in public schools.


        Posted by Chad Sansing | January 19, 2012, 4:26 pm
  3. As we talk about the economics of people leaving the public schools to start new models, I do feel I have to say a word on behalf of the many people who are struggling financially, especially in this economy, because they are shouldering the burden of educating their kids without public support. Our good friends homeschooled their two kids all the way to Princeton and Occidental College on a single public school teacher’s salary! Think about it!

    Folks are giving up income so they can have more time with their kids, they are spending their own dollars on opportunities and resources that public school kids get for free, they are almost always denied extracurricular benefits like school sports, drama, and music programs – and of course all these families are paying their share of taxes like everybody else to support the public schools.

    The question is: how long can our society continue to ask people to accept being denied public support for their children unless they are willing to accept top-down standardized control over education?

    Posted by Carol Black | January 20, 2012, 12:35 am
    • Thanks for sharing that perspective, Carol. I can hear policy makers and other in the Dept of Ed saying “well, that’s their choice.” But, as you say, why should their kids be denied public resources.

      Another thing your comment brought to mind is the fact that most students in the public school system here in Philly are already being denied sports, drama and music programs due to financial cutbacks and a focus on high stakes testing.

      Posted by marybethhertz | January 22, 2012, 4:14 pm
  4. This is a great discussion Mary Beth, exactly the kind of thing we struggle with and talk about over at IDEA in terms of change models and the implications for whom, of transformation. Ironically, in terms of what will change look like, yesterday Larry Summers (former president of Harvard) predicted the radical alternation of the shape of higher education within the next 30 years:

    “A good rule of thumb for many things in life holds that things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then happen faster than you thought they could. Think, for example, of the widespread use of the e-book, or the coming home to roost of debt problems around the industrialized world. Here is a bet and a hope that the next quarter century will see more change in higher education than the last three combined.”

    -What You (Really) Need to Know
    Published: January 20, 2012

    The implications for K-12 are huge.

    Posted by Kirsten | January 23, 2012, 8:19 am
    • Thanks for the link to the article, Kirsten!

      All of this change reminds me of a horse race. Sometimes a horse from the back or the middle suddenly bolts to the front, while a leading horse may drop back. In the end, we don’t know who will reach the finish line first!

      Posted by marybethhertz | January 23, 2012, 1:06 pm

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