WORDS HAVE MEANING
By Lynn Stuter
May 14, 2003
In the context of education reform, aka systems education, parents are making assumptions about the meaning of words and phrases based on their current paradigm.
It is paramount that parents be mindful that in this transformation, this paradigm shift, what was is not what is, what was down is now up, and what was up is now down. No better example of this can be found than in the words of Bill Clinton, "... that depends on what the meaning of 'is' is!"
Parents and citizens, hearing the verbiage used in the context of the paradigm shift, define that verbiage according to their paradigm, not according to the paradigm shift. The problem comes when parents and citizens believe the terms and phrases mean one thing when, in reality, they mean something entirely different.
Take for instance what children should know and be able to do as a result of their first ten years in the public or government school setting. They should have demonstrated mastery or proficiency of team work, critical thinking, problem solving, communications, adapting to change and understanding whole systems.
Well, what parent wouldn't want their child to be able to get along with others, think analytically and outside the box, solve problems, communicate with others, be adaptable and understand how our nation works?
But is that what these terms and phrases mean in the context of the transformation of education? In a word, "no."
"Team work" has come to mean the giving up of one's individual principles and values for those of the group which becomes the new family. Team work isn't about working side by side with others in an amicable atmosphere as an individual, but does mean having the same world view, philosophy, ideology as one's co-workers to form one big happy family. This is not how parents and citizens would define the phrase.
"Critical thinking" and "problem solving" often go hand in hand in the context of education reform. These phrases, along with "conflict resolution," "peer mediation" and "consensus building" are based on situation ethics: no right, no wrong, just the unifying of perceptions. Definitely not how a parent would define thinking critically, solving problems or resolving conflicts.
While parents would define "communication" as the ability to speak intelligently and with knowledge, "communication" in the context of education reform means the ability to express how one feels about something. It does not matter that 2 + 2 does not equal 5, it is how well the child can communicate how he feels about 2 + 2 = 5. Why is this? Because the affective domain of a child is much easier to manipulate than the cognitive domain. See The Psychology of Becoming
What parent doesn't want their child to be able to "adapt to change." Unfortunately, this is not what "adapting to change" means. In the context of education reform, everything is in a constant state of flux ... ever changing hour to hour, day to day, week to week, month to month .... In as much as the system is ever evolving, children must be readily willing and able to set aside their existing beliefs for a new set of beliefs to conform with the changes to be implemented. Children willing and able to set aside their existing beliefs (principles) in such manner is undoubtedly not what most parents have in mind when they think of "adapting to change."
And what parent doesn't want their child to understand how "the system" works, intoning, of course, the "American way of doing things." But that isn't what "understanding whole systems" means. What this phrase means is understanding general systems theory, or systems theory, or systems thinking, as some prefer to call it. This means that children understand and believe that "the world is a system of subsystems all interdependent and interconnected to form a wholistic or holistic system, with an infrastructure that is analogous across systems irrespective of physical appearance;" that children also believe that "the world is a living breathing organism irreducible to its parts, what affects one part affects all parts, that in the name of saving spaceship Earth we must change society." This latter is known as the Gaia Hypothesis, bringing the New Age spirituality to systems theory. Undoubtedly not what most parents have in mind when they think of "understanding whole systems."
Another term that has been transmogrified in the context of education reform is "academic." The Washington State essential learnings or exit outcomes -- what every child should know and be able to do as a result of his/her first ten years in school -- are called the State Essential Academic Learning Requirements or EALRs. They are far from academic as defined by most parents under the traditional paradigm.
They do, however, require the child demonstrate mastery (proficiency) of the "new basics:" team work, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, adapting to change and understanding whole systems as defined above. Each of these terms or phrases cannot be measured by an objective measure of right or wrong; each is measured by a subjective measure or opinion called an "assessment." Most parents would not consider an opinion "academic." They would however consider 2 + 2 = 4 to be academic or the fact that Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams were the more well-known of our nation's Founding Fathers. "Academic" to most parents means the teaching of the foundations of knowledge or the 3 R's as some euphemistically call it.
In the context of the shifting paradigm or transformation of education, it is imperative that parents and citizens remember that how they define terms and phrases is not necessarily how those terms and phrases are being defined by those implementing the system.
Should we deny or ignore the new definitions? That is tantamount to sticking one's head in the sand and claiming what exists does not exist because one does not want it to exist. Whether we like the new definitions or not, whether we agree with the new definitions or not, has no bearing on the fact that the powers that be are implementing the outreach of these new definitions. The way to reclaim the true meaning of the words and phrases is to reclaim the paradigm on which our nation was founded.
© 2003 Lynn M. Stuter - All Rights Reserved
Mother and wife, Stuter has spent the past ten years researching systems theory with a particular emphasis on education. She home schooled two daughters, now grown and on their own. She has worked with legislators, both state and federal, on issues pertaining to systems governance and education reform. She networks nationwide with other researchers and citizens concerned with the transformation of our nation. She has traveled the United States and lived overseas. Web site: www.learn-usa.com E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
"In the context of the shifting paradigm or transformation of education, it is imperative that parents and citizens remember that how they define terms and phrases is not necessarily how those terms and phrases are being defined by those implementing the system."