Paradigm Shifts

We are in the midst of a revolutionary process, which some call a paradigm shift. A paradigm is a mental map of the world, a model or pattern and a relationship of ideas to one another. Paradigms help us make sense of the world and allow us to form conceptual frameworks and theorize. However, when paradigms clash, sparks tend to fly, destructive fires often get started and people get hurt. Like the prisoners in the cave, we do not want our worlds to be upset with ideas that challenge who we are and what we believe.

We have competing paradigms of what is good education, as well as disagreements about what is good for education. Different approaches to improving education based on our varying points of view are proposed. Some opportunity to explore and experiment with these ideas and approaches in the spirit of continually seeking better understanding and avenues of improvement is needed. We must avoid both a fundamentalist point of view, in which we are committed not to change, as well as the position that any change in itself is good.

Change in schools often means upsetting established patterns and systems for unproven and unwanted reforms or innovations. These additional requirements and stress to teachers and administrators already demanding days are generally not welcomed. The demands and complexities of educators’ daily tasks in fulfilling their missions are generally not appreciated by those outside of education.

Unfortunately, most educators are not consulted about reforms, policies and changes that are put upon them. Reforms often fail in schools because the educators responsible for implementing them do not understand or buy into them. They do not see the need for the changes and resent being told how to do their jobs. Like most people, teachers value their autonomy. They also value their security and stability—they do not like to be criticized, attacked, threatened, challenged or upset.

Furthermore, we are less likely to change if we have had a long-term adherence to an idea, have a strong emotional attachment to our ways of thinking and have taken a public position in support of it (Gardener, 2011). Many scientists, academics, politicians, pundits and others trying to reform education are in that position, as are many of the school personnel who are resisting these reforms. This situation makes change all the harder.

We must accept that varied points of view exist about what is wrong and right and what should be done. In the absence of mutually agreed upon truths upon which to make decisions, we tend to rely on our own limited and sometimes faulty ideas. We tend to use whatever information and data exist to support our viewpoints and biases.

Even when we are looking at the same thing, we see something different from the other person. It is hard for us to hold more than one perspective at a time. Many optical illusions illustrate this point. The same picture may be seen as a vase or two faces looking at each other (see Figure 1 in my book under “Book and Papers” on this website) depending on what you focus upon.

Figure 1. Vase and faces.

What do you see when you look at the top picture in Figure 2? Now look at the mirror image. It may take some time, as it can be hard to see something from a different point of view, especially when we think we know what we are looking at. We need to develop this ability as we look at the problems in education from multiple points of view.

(see Figure 2 in my book under “Book and Papers” on this website)

Figure 2. Optical Illusion Reversible Picture

 When our viewpoints are faulty, incomplete or skewed, our decisions based upon them are similarly affected. We will briefly explore some of the filters or lenses with which we view education.

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About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is professor emeritus, School of Education, Northern Michigan University.
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