Volume:1, Issue: 3

Dec. 15, 2009

Anti-Crisis Model of Education. A “First Responder” to the Anti-Crisis Model
Bryan, P. S. [about]

While I read the article with admiration for the author’s courage at tackling such an ambitious and complicated topic, I was also skeptical of what seem like simplistic educational solutions to multi-layered, global economic dilemmas. I couch my response with a desire to know more about the content and experience of this educational model in action. As a “first responder”, (what in the United States we call the first group of helpers on the scene of a crisis), I am also mindful that some of my reactions may or may not be to the words chosen for the translation. We may have similar meanings that trigger different emotions in me, as the reader, because of the particular words chosen to explain them. In this case the article has been translated to English from the original Russian. I acknowledge that words are merely symbols for our mental models, and that as such they can trigger personal, emotional and culturally laden responses.

There is a difference between moral aging and moral maturity. Aging refers to the passage of chronological time only. John Dewey explained the notion of children as the immature in a society, needing the more mature adults to guide them, physically, emotionally, intellectually and morally. He noted that adults needed to keep the “plasticity” of mind of the child, the ability to be open and adapt to new and changing environments. The quality of education necessary is quite different from technical training that only leads to skilled repetition of routine behaviors, no purposing or problematizing as Paulo Freire named it, no critical thinking and bringing meaning gained from experience to anticipate and deal with new situations. The learning that leads to the mature moral self and sometimes a choice of selflessness for the common good is one basis for progressive and critical progressive educational philosophies.

The word stability is an interesting one. The world, nations, organizations and individuals seek stability, homeostasis, peace and harmony. Yet this is only one part of a dynamic cycle necessary for continuous improvement. To learn, we have to move ourselves out of our comfort zones, away from harmony. There is always intentional risk-making to learn something new. Therefore instead of seeking a public education for stability, it would seem more realistic to teach the whole complex cycle consisting of disequilibria, moving into unknown areas and using creativity to reach a new stability that in itself will be temporary. Economic systems are dynamic rather than static. Education needs to include skillfulness for living with ambiguity, uncertainty and flux much of the time and making decisions that are themselves fraught with dilemmas. Life is messy and therefore so is some of our most worthwhile learning. The notion of reaching a final “stable world development” seems unrealistic and even undesirable to me. What would happen to freedom, the voices of dissent and possibilities for future change?

We can agree that much of what we do today in education is not working. I would even suggest a major reason is that we have erroneously sought the one best answer, when there are many ways to learn and be in the world. We do need to look for effective paradigms for a global society in the 21st century. A “reproductive system of education” is flawed by definition. Dewey in 1916 called instead for a reconstruction, a reorganization of the past, in order to make decisions with a dual responsibility: finding and using what works for the unique conditions of the present and always seeking to improve ourselves and the society for the future. Instead of seeing a growing instability as wholly negative, might students-citizens instead be taught to anticipate it as a necessary part of the change process? If all the people in a society have the access to education and the freedom to make their own choices, they can use our learning to reconstruct and reorganize what they know to meet new demands and raise the quality and standard of living for all. Might this be the ideal to which we aspire?

As for the three objective threats, I see them instead as very subjective tensions existing within each of us and collectively within societies. The author, I believe, falsely proposes them as either-or dualisms and choices. Again borrowing from Dewey’s ideas, what is needed is an acknowledgment of the tensions and an attempt at mature integration and complementation of what seem like opposites. Yes, science can be, “used for both good and bad.” Therefore we need to study science in a meaningful and contextual manner, understanding the spiritual, historic, political, economic and moral consequences of how we use science and technology. Yes, Chernobyl is a serious example of what can happen. I find it improbable however, that “one individual mistake will bring about the death of all humankind.” This reasoning uses the most extreme and unlikely scenario that one person could act without constraints or checks and balances to end all life as we know it. At the same time, I do agree with Freire that each of us has the responsibility as educators to become conscious and act with conscience.

As I write today, many of the world’s leaders are getting ready to meet in Copenhagen to study the ecology of climate change, so many are aware of this need and our interdependence upon each other. What our students need is an education where they learn the skills of democratic deliberation across deeply held differences, so that they can come to a global conference and participate skillfully in such difficult conversations. Where is leadership of that sort in the curriculum of any public education system?

I very much agree with the author’s sense of optimism and the serious role of a genuine education to mitigate what seem like opposing forces that can keep individuals and a society stuck in the limitations, inequities and insecurities of the status quo instead of promoting and provoking progress. I don’t subscribe to the language of “self destruction of our civilization,” (and I read no evidence or reference), but I do agree to the seriousness of the problem described.
I am very impressed with the efforts of the Center of Education, No. 1804. It seems that they have constructed a holistic program that seeks to educate the whole child and family of the child, from the prenatal to adult stages of development. They are doing this within a difficult urban setting, fraught with a whole complex set of social problems, “violence, alcohol and other drug use and related risk factors impacting local youth.” I need to know more about how this is achieved.

The curriculum sounds very exciting and wonderful in two specific areas: the arts and in values development. I am passionate about using art as a way of knowing and being in the world. The creative process is a significant path to developing and expressing identity and to finding and resolving difficult problems. It helps us work through life as resilient, creative, moral and enduring persons and communities. I want to know much more about how they use the fine and performing arts as an integral part of the culturally centered curriculum.

The second strength is the foundational awareness, development and self-assessment of values as the basis for reasoning and making decisions. This has a prominent place deservedly so in the curriculum. There is a dualistic development. Values are processed and developed individually, but learned within a socio-cultural context. We learn in a social environment; values do not develop in a vacuum. A democracy, Dewey would argue, requires that the moral and social be one and the same. Implied in this concept of development is the freedom to know, to choose among alternatives and self determine one’s future.

I am getting very excited, and then I see the time frame and criteria for success: two years and winning on average in at least seven competitions in many areas and levels. I am keenly disappointed that competition is the sole criterion used as evidence. The value of such personal and social development in a public school curriculum cannot be measured by individual competitions. While it is certainly difficult but possible to raise test scores and win competitions in two years, is that the definition of what constitutes success? The author said that she was looking at a new paradigm, one that anticipates what is not yet and seeks to keep a society physically safe and morally progressing. It seems to be that there needs to be a new paradigm for assessment then as well.

Wouldn’t that include the abilities to assess collaboration with others, see the issues contextualized, dialogue multiple points of view and produce decisions that reflect the development of thinking and actions in the world that make for peaceful, moral social changes across differences? Knowing the right thing to do, moral awareness and reasoning, and doing it, moral action, are two very different things. It must be intentionally taught that the knowing is necessary but not sufficient for safe and just social change. Ethics also requires taking some action in the world.

Could we use the Universal Bill of Human Rights signed in 1947 at the United Nations as a set of guiding principles for public education in any country? And could we then also nurture pluralism and diversity as strengths and resources? I worry that the author concludes that we need world unity, one best way driven by, “Captains of History,” which implies standardization and someone powerful at the top making decisions for others. She asks, “What is the ‘best’ possible system of common human values?” Could public education look very different locally but be guided by a universal set of principles? I would hope for some clarification of meaning.

I look forward to reading a response and knowing more about the socio-cultural context, foundational concepts, implementation and assessment. I don’t believe in models to the degree that they become static routines or the concept of an Anti-Crisis Model that is based upon the ability to avoid crises totally through stability, but I do believe that her work and that of her colleagues at this school, brings us closer to better anticipating and dealing more maturely and morally with the tensions and dilemmas of the 21st century crises that we will most surely face personally, locally and globally.

Penny S. Bryan, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
College of Educational Studies
Chapman University
Orange, CA 92866
USA
pbryan@chapman.edu

 

References
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. NYC: Free Press.
Freire, P. (1998). Lantham MD: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

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