Disrupting Paradigms in Education: A Force for Good

I just finished devouring Clay Christensen’s new book, Disrupting Class, How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. (This is still a post in progress)

Innovation vs. Status Quo or Upsetting the Apple Cart
This book has received a lot of buzz in the edtech community. Education impacts every level of society, most markedly its’ future. I was initially inclined to disregard this book based on my own premise. Christensen is not a public school educator, so what does he know about education? This is exactly the kind of thinking which is going to keep schools in their lack-of-consensus holding patterns for an indefinite period until such time that the disruptive force succeed in inching their way up the sustainable trajectory-ladder forcing an implosion of monolithic proportions. Sound dramatic? It will be.

The disruption is already taking hold in area previously under served by the educational system. It began with distance learning for rural communities, expanded to AP courses and online classes for High School and College students and has migrated into the home schooling domain. Further examples can be seen in the preponderance of external tutoring options cluttering strip malls and racking up high tabs for parents who are willing to pay private tutors. The need for customizable education is growing and will continue to grow as the demand increases. The demand is fueled by dissatisfaction in the current system. Christensen is careful to make the case that the educational system has done remarkably well adapting to new demands in the past 100 years.

Schools Will Eliminate Poverty
The trouble is, current demands have exceeded the schools’ ability to produce the desired results namely a system to eliminate poverty. The goal has changed as have the ways schools are assessed in their ability to meet this goal. The discussion in the book about educational research is very revealing. It exposes a critical weakness in standard educational research. While educational research seeks to correlate data, it does not allow for prediction because it has no basis to identify causalities. Christensen believes that finding anomalies in research is the key to distilling causalities and creating categorical definitions containing if-then statements which can help educators provide a more student-centric learning environment.

Christensen uses a wonderful analogy on page 170 under the sub heading, The History of Manned Flight. Scientists observed only the birds who had the ability to fly instead of comparing the flightless birds to determining the anomalies present preventing flight. The would be aviators used only correlative evidence to support their theories. In the end a careful qualification of conditions helped engineers make the necessary changes to replicate flight.

Schools Share No Consensus
I will leave you with one last thought because I was so relieved to hear it coming from a scholar who merits the attention of our top national leaders. Find page 191 Sub header, Public Schools in the Matrix. He is referring to the agreement matrix which is diagram in the book illustrating four different extremes in organizational culture. Based on the degree to which your organization fits the profile for agreement a specific tool of cooperation is recommended to institute change. Schools fall into the lower left quadrant because they are at the highest level of non consensus. As a result Christensen says,

“The model asserts for example, that financial incentives, pay-for-performance schemes for teachers will not work.”

Please pay attention President Obama to this well meaning harbinger of the truth, Dr. Clayton Christensen.

Thank you Christensen, Horn and Johnson for giving me a glimpse at the big picture and for the heads up on how to become an educator involved in crafting better wings for students, propelling them into more successful futures.


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