Saturday, October 5, 2013

Is the Shutdown a Teachable Moment?

The question is straightforward enough, but the answer may be more complex.

U.S. public education's teachers have a long and meritorious history of using our nation's most serious challenges as teachable moments; points in time when there are heightened teacher and student awareness, interest in issues that transcend the normal advocacy of extant knowledge, and offering unique societal data points.  In the present public education environment, with what many argue is disproportionate focus on only knowledge fragments that support standardized tests, is there still room for the "teachable moment?"

One answer is, are schools using the opportunity?  Not a representative sample, but some enlightenment comes from Googling the question.  For convenience, the first ten text-based products of the Google search are linked here:  Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten.  Obviously schools are tackling the issues.  Are yours?

Normatively, the present teaching opportunities are diverse and complex.  In fact, they cover everything from comparative U.S. history, through macroeconomics, public accounting, organizational and system behavior, political theory and strategies, ironically linguistics, effects of communication and our communication system's performances, big data, human behavior -- individual and group -- spanning beliefs-attitudes-ethics-morality-honesty-integrity-values, through the mechanisms that mediate conflicts among individual, organizational and societal goals and action modes.  The most recent pronouncement by a political principal adds game theory.  The question may not be, is there an opportunity, but which one or set has the greatest potential for useful learning?

Dissecting that question engages some serious lesson planning, with answers all over the map.  Key is whether there is in our public K-12 education establishment the combination of objectivity and creativity to identify the strongest lessons, with the flexibility and decisiveness to get them into the right classrooms.

Borrowing from two decades of teaching history and logic of science, there are some stand out points of view that would be my preferential topics: That there are no single-cause systems in the real world; that zero-sum games are also MIA in a real world; that the notion of any human enterprise having a lock on being fully "right" invokes tiny probabilities; that problem solving starts with accurate and coherent problem definition; that "facts" when they can be found are not malleable; that true problem solutions critically depend on adoption of some process for resolution rather than random potshots (e.g., adoption and adherence to formal bargaining models); that factoring in human behavior that defies reason and due process may make a problem unsolvable without another layer of intervention or resort to other classes of choice mechanisms.  

Historically some of the latter when on a national scale have not been pretty; you undoubtedly have lived through some of the civil strife and wars, and while of lesser magnitude but pertinent, is present public K-12 alleged reform.

If there is a universal message to be taken away from the present impasse, it may have applicability way beyond the current issues of Federal budget, PACA specifics, or gerrymandered political districts, and applies to our education systems:  That objectivity, adaptability and creativity aren't the enemies of the learning supposed to be the products of U.S. public K-12, but the raison d'ĂȘtre for their operations?

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