Everything is Connected

(drafted on November 13, 2016)

Everything is connected. The turkey sandwich I had for lunch, is connected to the store where I bought the ingredients, and to the animals, and the plants that provided the materials to make the sandwich, and to the trucks that delivered those materials, and to the roads, and the fuel…I could go on. The sandwich and the person eating it are part of a system. There isn’t a thing we consume that doesn’t have a context. People are parts of systems too. We should teach young children about systems and we should do it throughout the curriculum.

I think we should teach systems thinking beyond science and contextualize knowledge for kids starting from pre-k.

We already teach about the food web. The collection of ‘food chains’ that tell us which animal consumes which other animal. We teach kids how this is important and the dire consequences of those chains breaking. But systems aren’t just about eating. In fact we teach a few systems in science class — like when we explain precipitation for example. I think we should teach systems thinking beyond science and contextualize knowledge for kids starting from pre-k.

Our excuse for not focusing on systems is that contextualizing and synthesizing information are complex higher order skills that may inaccessible to a young child. The Waters Foundation http://watersfoundation.org/the-benefits/students/ offers teachers and parents extensive proof that even the youngest children have the capacity to reason in a systems way, to not only collect facts in their brains but to also explain how those ideas are connected. The proof is there, but I want to explain just how important it is.

Systems thinking is an antidote to absolutes and helps explain why stuff matters. Why should I care about bees, without understanding their context in our ecosystem? Why should I care about space rocks, or percents, or poems? We teach these things in elementary school, yet we don’t spend enough time on connecting them to what matters. At the center of each kids’ system thinking mindset is their self. “How does this relate to or affect me and the people I care about?” If we can’t answer that question we haven’t taught a fact, we’ve taught trivia.

Systems thinking is an antidote to absolutes and helps explain why stuff matters.

Systems thinking turns trivial knowledge into relevant and actionable knowledge. And maybe, if we can better learn why Venus, and bees, and Shakespeare matter, we can learn why and how other humans matter. What could our high schools and colleges and jobs be like if we arrive there with a deep regard for the systems of society, culture, government, and nature that bind us together? We expect a second grader to get how a hawk, a snake and a mouse are connected in a system. We should also expect that child to think deeply about how they are connected to the clerk bagging their groceries, to the man in sunglasses speeding in a Tesla who cut them off at a green light, to the heap of bags and smells next to a tent that is actually a person that they pass on the sidewalk, and to the politicians who insist that some of those people matter more than others.

On that note, Black Lives Matter in the classroom. Read both articles by Daniel Fishel http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-56-summer-2017/feature/why-teaching-black-lives-matter-matters