Saturday, February 9, 2013

Systems Education or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

So I am watching the New Learners of the 21st Century PBS documentary and I was in awe during the segment by James Paul Gee on systems. I was in awe because he wasn't talking about General Systems or Complexity Science, Chaos Theory, or even Complex Adaptive Systems. No instead Dr. Gee is talking about Game Theory as Systems Theory. This is problematic because Game Theory, an incremental bureaucratic for decision making created by the Rand Corporation during the design of the atomic bomb (States have an interest in determining the optimal time required for extermination), involves absolute-rationality. What do I mean by that? Well, it means that the practitioner (student in this case) is assumed to know everything in a complex environment and can take that information and complete the necessary processes for optimal (not correct) outcomes.

I hope you see the problem. The student, by default, does not know everything. The student is already limited with the application of this learning style. This style would require an all knowing teacher/facilitator, something not guaranteed.

This reminds me of planning, and my research, as it relates to decision making. Planners historically operated as "systems" practitioners. Everything was great until the 1950's, but the problems were apparent. Charles Lindbolm's The Science of Muddling Through released in 1959 highlights the rigor that practitioners actually operate, and the incrementalism that is encouraged with real world applications of game theory. Writing later, John Forester's Bounded Rationality and the Politics of Muddling Through, presents the practitioner dilemma found above. For Forester, the practitioner doesn't know everything, is well aware of this, but still operates using rational decision making. In the end, planners aren't systems practitioners, instead they fall into a Weberian self-sustaining, caged bureaucratic existence...

There are alternatives! Learning systems that promote knowledge generation, encourage practitioner/student participation in learning, and enable social change. That is what I think is necessary in a 21st century learner.

The following is the trailer for Koyaanisqatsi, notice the built environment of rationality compared to the organic.

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