Stafford Beer coined the term Cybernetics.
He was a brilliant man who, among other things, wrote a novel about a very wise but forgetful wizard. This excerpt tells you what he thinks of our education system. The title alone- referring to the Education Minister- should give you a hint of what is to come.
Excerpt from: Chronicles of Wizard Prang by Stafford Beer
From Chapter Two: A Pompous Man
The pompous man lowered himself into the visitor’s armchair.
“I have the honour to be the Chairman of the Education Committee in our little town,” he said. “As you know, education is the hope for mankind.”
Wizard Prang raised an eyebrow, but waited politely for his visitor to continue.
“It has come to my attention,” the pompous man said, “that you are the possessor of some very advanced knowledge. Our Committee has therefore passed a resolution Inviting you to give the School Prizes away on Speech Day this year and to give us a little address telling us all about it.”
…The wizard cleared his throat.
“In a hundred years or so, everyone now alive in the whole earth will be dead – is this not so?”
The pompous man was relieved. He could follow that. He nodded sagely.
“It would therefore be possible for the human race to run its affairs quite differently, in a wise and benevolent fashion, in a relatively short time.”
This way of looking at things appealed to the Chairman of the Education Committee. It had an optimistic ring, so different from the doom-laden pronouncements of most so-called clever people.
He leaned forward. “And so?” he asked encouragingly.
“The purpose of education,” said Wizard Prang, “is to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
The pompous man was thunderstruck.
“Look here, Sir,” he said, “please remember who I am. Not only do I have civic responsibilities – I am also a Pompous Man. You can’t say things like that, you know.”
The wizard was under the Impression that he just had said it, and looked around anxiously to see If anything was wrong. But things looked much as usual.
“Young people today are lazy and good-for-nothing,” declared the pompous man. He resounded. He was on familiar ground. “They sit around listening to pop music and taking drugs. What they have to do is learn more things, apply themselves.”
“No, that’s not correct,” the wizard explained, “they have to unlearn things.”
“How can that possibly be?” The pompous man was lost.
“Well,” said Wizard Prang, “we can teach only what we know. Now what we know is how to devastate the planet, kill its inhabitants, and starve two thirds of the rest. Seems a bit silly to teach people to do all that.”
“Ridiculous!” shouted the pompous man. “That is not the intention at all, and you know it.”
The wizard looked reflective. “The purpose of a system is what it does.”
Originally posted: March 29th, 2006
Reflection upon re-reading and re-posting:
It seems fitting to me that this was my first ever blog post. If I were given a magic wand and provided with an opportunity to change just one thing about institutional learning, I would wish for a dynamic system that charged forth, innovatively leading the way with new ideas and attitudes towards what it means to be an intentional learner. I wouldn’t worry about ‘What has been done in the past,’ or ‘How we always do things around here’. However I am not going to go off on a diatribe… this is about a new beginning.
This first post set a tone for my blog. It was a metaphorical opening of a window, allowing a breath of fresh air into my teaching and into my experience as a lifelong learner. As I approach the two year mark since first blogging this, I can honestly say that becoming a blogger has been absolutely transformative! I feel like I’ve learned more in the past 2 years than I have in 22 years of one kind of institutional learning or another.
We are embarking on a new era for schools. Technological tools and the world of Web2.0 are helping teachers and students leave Clay Burell’s Schooliness behind. But it won’t be an easy ride! Many people treat the technological tools as a means to do ‘old things in new ways‘.
What I think makes this new transformation more meaningful is that we can no longer ‘hold students back’. Dave Sands, a friend and mentor, told me years ago, “Do you know what will change education? Students will!” They will indeed, as the metaphorical window is open for them too. They can, and will, lead the way and we need to decide if we want to help guide their learning path beyond the walls of our schools, or if we want to hold them back… have them fill in a multiple choice answer here, and a fill-in-the-blank question there?
‘The purpose of a system is what it does.’ What do we want our schools to do?