Schools That Learn LO22972

Art Kleiner (
Sun, 24 Oct 1999 19:03:24 -0400

Replying to LO22713 --


I've been giving a lot of thought to your message about the Education
Fieldbook. Since you posted it to the Learning-Organization list, I
figured I'd reply here.

At the heart of your message is the perennial reminder: "Watch out for
hubris." That reminder is always appreciated, and never more than with
this Education Fieldbook, when we're arrogant enough to put out an
impossible book with an impossible deadline, with an idiosyncratic
approach that may or may not work.

But enough about us. Your implicit question is more to the point: Are
educational institutions, by their nature (because of their governance
structures and history) unsalvageable?

I don't know how to answer in the abstract. It's clear that "educational
institutions" are not really a single sort of entity, or anything close to
one. The diversity that exists in the educational arena is far greater
than the diversity in large corporations -- not just in terms of the
people involved, but in terms of the kinds of organizations involved. You
allude to some of them: charter schools, new types of noncredit education,
etc. And even public schools, themselves, are remarkably diverse.

The unit of change, in all of them, however, seems to be the same -- the
pilot group of committed people.

So that's whom we're writing to. These pilot groups may include teachers,
parents, administrators, students... we don't want to presume. But at
least it gives us a fairly meaningful way to address the audience, that
allows us to look at "education" without excluding anyone.

Hopefully, the "pilot group" approach to an audience will be robust, will
not exclude anyone, will not raise false hopes of "easy change" and will
still help foster enthusiasm and aspiration.

You mention the alternative education movement of the 1960s. We have a few
contributors with roots in that movement. I followed that movement closely
myself -- first as a student in the 1960s and early 1970s (one of my close
friends and teachers, Jim Evers, cofounded the Rockland Project School a
couple of years after I got to know him). Then, as an editor at the Whole
Earth Catalog, I was exposed to the various alternative school movements
related to John Holt's writing and in California. Indeed, the Whole Earth
Catalog had its genesis in the Portola Foundation, which had originally
been an alternative school-abetting foundation. Dick Raymond (since
associated with Charlie Krone) and Bob Albrecht (founder of the People's
Computer Company, later to write "My Computer Likes Me When I Talk in
Basic") were two of the most critical people there.

In fact, I just went back (after writing this) to look at my old Whole
Earth Catalog from 1972. There's about eight huge pages' worth of reviews
of books and magazines about school. Herb Kohl, Neil Postman (I'd
forgotten that he used to write about education before he wrote about
turning off TV), This Magazine is About Schools (says you should take out
the lockers and put cushions in the hallways, and stop sorting the books
in the library by Dewey Decimal System -- just let the kids come in and
read what they find.) On and on and on. There's a lot of resonance between
what those people were trying to do (and sometimes succeeding in doing)
and what people involved in learning organizations in education are trying
to do now.

But there are also differences. The difference is that some ofthe "people
trying" are superintendents and school boards of large public school
systems. Memphis, TN. Alameda, CA. Pelham, NY (my own town). Ho-ho-kus, NJ
(more famously). St. Martin's Parish, LA. Clayton, MO. These are a few
that I've been exposed to during the past few months. When you add in the
influence of Sizer, Comer, Gardner, Kallick/Costa, and so on and so on...
you come away (or at least I come away) with an impression of a large
number of committed people trying experiments in education in a large
number of public arenas. They have to build safety nets below their
experiments; they can't experiment casually with kids' lives and futures.
But they are taking chances and trying things that would have been
unthinkable in the public school structure in the 1960s.

And they have to operate in a political framework that the education
activists of the 1960s tried to ignore, or couldn't quite deal with. (John
Holt advocated home schooling... I had forgotten that, too.) They have to
learn to foster change without being in control -- even if they're the
superintendents of the school district. And they have to be effective at
it, or they will go up in flames and foster a backlash.

Is that cause for hope or despair? Or some other emotion? I'm not sure.


At 9:39 PM -0400 9/22/99, tabeles wrote:

>Hi art
>I think you loose a lot when you try to map the concept of school change
>and school as a learning organization into the concepts as structured or
>labeled in the vision of a LO as originally created by Senge and you may
>be doing a disservice to both students and teachers who are struggling on
>a daily basis to build a meaningful educational experience.

-- Art Kleiner,,


Art Kleiner <>

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