Some remarks on "Why School Reform is Impossible
" By Seymour Papert
reprinted on the Korakora website
Unless I am missing Tyack and Cuban's point, this account is in the
spirit of Tinkering Towards Utopia and in fact, exemplifies one of the
major principles in its presentation of the generic life-cycle of
reforms: The reform sets out to change School but in the end School
changes the reform. One may at first blush see a tautology in using
this proposition to explain failures of reform. But to say that School
changes the reform is very different from simply saying that School
resists or rejects the reform. It resists the reform in a particular
way -- by appropriating or assimilating it to its own structures. By
doing so, it defuses the reformers and sometimes manages to take in
something of what they are proposing.
This is indeed a fascinating and important study on how the various
sociological and individual psychological cognitive and emotional
"dependencies" interact with each other.
In fact, I'm sure that the basic mechanisms explicated here -are
actually fundamental processes that operate outside the general school
environment -and may indeed prove to be the most fundamental of forces
in society in general.
Certainly, it seems obvious to me, that the underlying proceses
described above are indeed responsible, not only for the
"dis-empowerment" of the "computational paradigm" in school -they are
also responsible for the general "dis-empowerment" of the
"computational paradigm" that has taken place in society in general.
It is the manifestation of these forces that have lead me to complain
that the very institutions responsible for the destruction of knowledge
and understanding are those that should have been responsible for
nurturing and disseminating it....
However, perhaps one should not be too gloomy about these things. In
order to understand the process fully, one should perhaps also be more
aware of the need for "stability" within a functioning system. I'm sure
that "dynamic simulation" could demonstrate the many problems created
when a system changes too fast (especially a result of external
forces). I'm sure that many current "global" problems are in fact
caused by too great a change imposed from outside on both individuals,
societies and institutions.
In this sense, the "reactionary forces" may not always be entirely
"evil" but perhaps also have their positive side too (as indeed most
things seem to have within an ecology of processes).
Indeed, the process of "assimilation" may well be a general creative
principle, by which dynamic systems sustain themselves -so (once again)
it inot the "absolute" qualities of something that is important -but
the more "relative" dynamics of how these "qualities" (qualia?)
interact with other components of the system. Presumably, it is this
"dynamic and reletivistic" nature of things that requires an approach
to "control systems" which is based on dynamic "intelligence" and not
My own view is that education activists can be effective in fostering
radical change by rejecting the concept of a planned reform and
concentrating on creating the obvious conditions for Darwinian
evolution: Allow rich diversity to play itself out. Of course, neither
of us can prove the other is wrong. That's what I mean by diversity.
Unfortunately, I suspect that the reactionary forces may already know
about manipulating "the obvious conditions for Darwinian evolution"
-which is why they often seem to focus on destroying the natural
(social, conceptual and physical "environment") -so that people are
forced to adapt their behaviour in ways that (pragmatically) support
the new situation...
However, I agree that "diversity" is almost certainly an essential part
of the (social, economic and cultural) "fuzzy computational process"
-able to operate on a sets of inderminate "truth" values.
So, on one level, the prognosis is good -because "dictators" tend to
destroy diversity and therefore eventually create the conditions that
lead to their own destruction. The bad news is that this process also
tends to destroy much that was valuable before the final collapse
comes. This is why societies have such great problems in recovering
from these disasters -with the process of recovery often taking
decades, generations or even centuries.
At the moment, it seems that the whole world is involved in a complex
internal interaction between periods of (local) recovery and a general
(global) collapse. However, even this is not a cause for too much
pessimism -if one can understand the underlying processes -then every
period of crisis is a (perhaps short lived) window of oportunity
for change (before the forces of reaction recover and re-establish an
unsustainable form of stability -paradoxal as that may sound)....
Indeed, in this context, it is essential to understand the difference
between "static"and "dynamic" systems -as well as the function of
non-binary logic in "real-world" situtions.
Unfortunately, this apparently requires a complete rethinking of the
globally dominant western cultural paradigm..... and if one thinks
educational reform is difficult -then how on earth are we to deal with
cultural (and economic) reform on a global scale (in a way that