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System Failures: The Education System and the Proliferation of Reductive Thinking

Leyla Acaroglu
Oct 22, 2018 · 18 min read

How Schools Kill Creativity

Sir Ken Robinson’s famed TED Talk on how Schools Kill Creativity

A Brief History of Education

Early on in the human experience, children learned what they needed in order to become effective adults through the socially-learned tools of the group, from hunting and gathering to weapon making and finding life-sustaining resources (such as water) through story lines. Around 4000 years ago, schools started to emerge in the ancient societies; as early as 3000 BC, the Mesopotamians and Egyptians created structured education for the advancement of society with the intent to provide moral teachings and religious instruction (mainly to boys). Once the knowledge transfer tool of writing was developed, teaching could happen in entirely new ways, and thus, started to evolve around the world.

Modern Schooling

Despite the many approaches throughout history, a ‘school’ at its core is an institution for the instruction of young people that has played an important role throughout evolution, laying the foundations for the development and reinforcement of the values, ideologies, and constructs of the dominant social system of the time.

Educational Access

Make no mistake, the world has changed for the better because of education. My argument is not for the abolishment of education; globally we still have much work to do in enabling equal access to literacy and providing young people from all walks of life the opportunity to thrive. The central argument here is that in societies where school is normalized and often enforced, the way the schooling system is designed and enacted stifles the possibility of many people, while reinforcing a broader system of control and teaching young people skills for an era of the past.

Stuffing and flogging?

In the 1600s, John Amos Comenius, who is often referred to as “the grandfather of modern education” called schools “the slaughterhouse of the mind,” where he saw them devoted primarily to the boring and sometimes brutally-enforced study of Latin by “stuffing and flogging”. He went on to argue for education to follow “the lead of nature. A rational creature should be led not by shouts, imprisonment, and blows, but by reason.” Nothing was to be learned “for its own sake,” but “for its usefulness in life.”

The Construction of Knowledge

Within the historical context of schooling, we can see the foundation from which the current version of education has been built upon — and how it has bred a system designed to create very controlled outcomes. This system needs to reinforce itself to survive; thus, the construction of education as being confined to a pre-constructed place (a school with other students, textbooks, and a validated teacher) is perpetuated and mimicked at length globally, without any real understanding of the personal and social implications of reinforcing a system designed this way.

The Design of Reductive Thinking

Since Newton wrote the laws of thermodynamics, a dominant mechanical worldview has permeated education and Western societies at large. The idea that the world can be broken down into manageable bitesize parts is a particular way of approaching the infinite complexity of the world around us. It helps the human mind make sense of existence and lays out the steps of a process so that an end goal can be achieved.

The Need for Systems Thinking

A systems worldview busts through reductionism to see that the world is made up of complex interconnected systems that impact us all, and in turn, our individual and collective actions impact these systems that provide support for life.

Russel Ackoff is one of the best explainers of the need for systems thinking in education and business

Critical and Experiential Pedagogy

There are many alternatives to the standard approach to knowledge transfer and social conditioning of young minds. Kolb’s work in experiential education and the cycle of learning is useful in seeing the diversity of approaches to knowledge acquisition.

Disruptive Design

Going against the grain; disrupting the status quo.

Leyla Acaroglu

Written by

UNEP Champion of the Earth, Designer, Sociologist, Sustainability Provocateur, TED Speaker, Educator, Founder of unschools.co, disrupdesign.co & coproject.co

Disruptive Design

Going against the grain; disrupting the status quo. This curated collection of articles explores the themes of disruptive design, sustainability, cognitive science, gamification, social innovation, positive change interventions and the systems that connect it all.

Leyla Acaroglu

Written by

UNEP Champion of the Earth, Designer, Sociologist, Sustainability Provocateur, TED Speaker, Educator, Founder of unschools.co, disrupdesign.co & coproject.co

Disruptive Design

Going against the grain; disrupting the status quo. This curated collection of articles explores the themes of disruptive design, sustainability, cognitive science, gamification, social innovation, positive change interventions and the systems that connect it all.

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