The Upside of All This
By LeiLani Cauthen
You can see an upside of what is happening in America, in Education, in the World, if you know some of How Things Work. Specifically, you might ask, what things? Well, things that indicate a difference in social structure because of functional change in culture or an evolution of economics. Sometimes a change in culture resulted in a peaceful difference such as women doggedly pursuing the right to vote for many decades until they won that right. Culture agreed, and voting changed. Form followed a shift in cultural function. Other times, not-so-peaceful things occurred to force form to follow a new cultural function. We are in such a time now, and in education the force of change is brutal, but actually the digital transition to a new form has been a cultural expectation for a very long time.
Form, the structure of things, follows function. Every time, in everything. If form does not follow function, there is friction. This is a good theory of How Things Work.
Here it is more simply put
When you pick up a spoon instead of a knife, you are doing so because you want to perform a function of spooning up liquid or Jello (I like Jello). The form and structure of a knife versus a spoon allows the function of either cutting or spooning. They are different forms for different functions.
There are several things that are different now in society in terms of function that are shifting structure and doing so with a great deal of perceivable friction.
To see the upside lies in understanding where the function is taking the structure and how it could be great, if it makes it through the rough waters of change. America has made it through such tough times before, and it will again. We made it through violent union strikes and laws disallowing child labor as we shifted from the agrarian to industrial ages, not to mention the big form shift after we adopted a functioning democracy and got rid of being ruled by a despotic King.
The upside is this is all going somewhere. It makes it interesting to be alive and contributing in the education arena.
What are the different things changing How Things Work?
To call a spade a spade, the one major thing that is different now that was not there before across human existence through history is this: Technology. It really is the villain in the plot, despite it being the great savior of so much. Stay with me here, start thinking of technology as the thing that came after the agricultural age and the Industrial Revolution. It swept in and starting mutating everything even down to never being able to get your own children to look up at the dinner table because they are busy texting. That is, if what is left of the old nuclear family, now so overly mobile, even has a dinner table moment at all thanks to other technologies.
Just put tech in that bucket to follow that logic for now, and we’ll come back to it being a sort of savior later. It really is a sort of “villain” because it is taking over human aspects of our earlier form as well as aspects of mannered humanity. Tech has laid waste to literally what we do as humans (mutating or taking jobs) unlike earlier tool or production-based eras. It’s also been obliterating things we used to trust, like the mass media, by replacing it with a hyper devolution into hardly trustable, foreshortened, ungrammatical social media that is additionally such an economic form shift that it actually monetizes us, our identity itself gets commercialized and resold to marketers.
The friction we all feel, then, is a simultaneous shift in function and form in almost every arena.
Remarkably, there is an antidote to technology, and that’s how all this could turn out great.
The antidote is simple, and yet so breathtakingly complex. The simplicity is that we have had no corollary to the rise of technology, no great rise of the humanities. Yes, the opposite of tech is humans. The perfection of the humanities and our skills and self-actualization is being forced to the forefront. Where we haven’t developed or applied a stronger, better humanity, we have lost ground to tech as a culture, as a legal and political framework, and we are losing ourselves to it. We cannot balance its onslaught.
Tech as the villain
This is because for the first time in history, tech went beyond tool, something we grow things with or hammer other things with, to something that does the work of the mind. Now it is performing an enormous number of human internal and external functions which this article details shortly. The villainy is that tech is planted in the middle of societies which had explicit structures for the earlier tool ages – and then watched the show while it tore through every institution, every cultural norm, and is busy burning down any governance model.
The solution is not to throw out tech. Instead, we need to get really busy harnessing it to build all new structures, but not based on past structures. At least not entirely. The best way to think about harnessing tech is letting it do its thing to bring a vast array of choice, customization, stream-lined automation and communication between humans. This is where every political party and institution small or large is getting it all wrong. They automate the old, they do not consider what technologies’ capabilities as extensions of human mind-function do to change every other structure. The free market therefore runs rough-shod over old structure, Netflix squashes Blockbuster, Amazon crushes retail, Uber wrecks the cab industry. Now it seems like a virus is crushing brick-and-mortar education, but the truth is, it could not respond to expectations of continuance digitally as so many did in other sectors. Education was not built as a structure for the tech age. It had not yet mutated truly, leveraging the dispersal-factor that tech brings because its form is ultimately the trillion-noded Internet.
Most educators during the pandemic are still thinking of function, getting kids to learn something, as a centralized organization. They were suddenly forced to come up with a new form to answer a changed-by-distance function. Unfortunately, most transferred the same form into the function, causing friction and failure in many instances. They have no outside frame of reference on form other than these two: all-together-now class and grade brick-and-mortar, or online. “Blended” was what one did on campus in the classroom.
Now the form is wildly different. It’s some-kids-on-campus, some teachers at home and others isolated in classrooms with no students (broadcasting from there), and many students remote but in no-two-are-alike circumstances. The orderliness and commonality of form are totally blown.
Time to think deeply into form because very obviously function requires a totally new one. Looking at what has been won’t do, one must learn only from the points of friction and invent a new form.
The upside lies in coming up with new form that acknowledges all of these new realities:
- Humans are becoming the network. We are not just nodes on the network, the Internet is taking over and we are becoming the servant of it in too many instances. Consider how much mass media factions control minds in one political party or another. In terms of school function, the humanities, presently the social-emotional leadership, is becoming increasingly imperative but with the twist of driving wide-open discernment – the opposite of the authoritarian posture of most schools. Unfortunately, collapsing into only one camp on any issue will force a loss by schools of students to alternatives, because the true function of humans-becoming-the-network is that at any time they can be exposed to alternative information. That is what the Internet It is an unstoppable force unless you are a totally authoritarian country – and even then, the common people find ways around it and in so doing become a growing subversive movement. The solution is to resolve to “let” other ideas without invalidation or negative evaluation.
- Distribution, Contribution, and Logistics. Distribution by UPS and Fed-X have annihilated what the USPS once was, mainly through ever-more advanced logistics. Amazon’s market cap of $1 Trillion should tell you just about everything you need to know about centralized distribution combined with logistics and contribution by innumerable manufacturers. They pretty much hold the “One Ring to Rule Them All.” What happens when a consumer force holds the distribution, the contribution and the logistics for education? If built to be a utility, it will be for the greater good. If built to shunt only the earlier brick-and-mortar public systems into oblivion, there will be a great friction as the old system tries to fight the commercial take-over and slowly fails because it refused to mutate enough to still command the contribution of attendance and affiliation. The answers for schools today in new form lie almost entirely in this arena of distribution-of-knowledge-and-teaching logistics.
- A loss of cultural cohesion. This fact has more contributing to it than technology but is a leading loss of function for many schools which must service over 100 foreign languages, depressing the existing form and forcing a shift so as not to continue to lose on driving achievement.
- Locus of work. Today a huge percentage of the population can work from anywhere. What does that bode for schools for both time and space use?
- An anti-hierarchical trend. This, too, is because the Internet flattens bureaucracy and makes every individual a node connected to every other individual. Hierarchies have been dying off in the private sector for decades, and schools are now having to rethink staffing that is less hierarchical and more on-demand service structure using tech.
- Crafted lives. Social media began a trend of communicating constantly about highlights of living and created a consciousness of one’s life being crafted uniquely. In addition, since nearly everything is personalizing one’s Internet experience, a personalization of learning crafted for the individual is an unstoppable trend train.
- Small is better. Mega institutions are getting hammered for authoritarianism, viewing all constituents as faceless mobs of sameness, and in general, being too big to easily communicate with and get results. Locally crafted and small breweries of education are a trend, so any large district needs to be capable of creating multiple flavors and a neighborhood vibe. The urban exodus because of technologies is accelerating. It is the exact opposite trend of the Agrarian-to-Industrial Age. The Tech-to-Experience Age is moving to the country.
- A boring ideological war. While political tensions are high in America, scholars should be remembering that they were also high in the last great economic turn to a new form – from the Agrarian Age to the Industrial Age. The form of governance shifted very dramatically with mass new social programs like Medicaid and Social Security. The current war between ideologies, one aimed at cohesion and the other at individuality fails to acknowledge that in the Experience Age we want and need both. Not a single politician seems to get this new truth that is evident everywhere you look, so burning with lust for power it seems. Only a rare few intellectuals are taking about the “Internet Government” model, the first new idea born in the last two hundred-plus years.
The premise of sameness-oneness in cohesive social constructs underlies continued big bureaucracy and must backwards engineer in a sense of individual equity. It espouses freedom within a form – long live the big bureaucratic form. No one really disagrees with civility except the insane, but in pursuing social accord with big social engineering, the tendency is to disregard the fact that no two humans in history have ever agreed on every single thing. Anyone who has been married any length of time or had more than one child living under the same roof sees this stark reality. Yet a human idealizes, it is what makes us human. In large social institutions like schools, continued and concerted measures to engineer civility are a function because of the form. There is really no way not to do this actively in the traditional school setting. Still, since the world seems to be set up to have two of everything and does not see a new third rail yet, dogmatic insistence on one polarity forces a growth of the antipode.
On the other side is the press for individuality and customization, acknowledging an independence could be had via technologies to opt out of any supposed social engineering and partake of only core function – not the general form of schools. It espouses freedom from form. This is the burgeoning homeschool movement which apparently has a large percentage who still want some of the oversight to align to standards and perhaps still have extracurricular activities at will. The highlighted point here is that there are two sides, two ideologies intrinsic to all politics, and technology facilitates both. It plays both sides and could in future “run the ball down the middle.” The question for schools is how will they play?
The upside, again, is this is all going somewhere at a faster pace since COVID-19, which both wrecked the old normal and created vast potential.
About the author
LeiLani Cauthen is the CEO and Publisher of The Learning Counsel. She is well versed in the digital content universe, software development, the adoption process, school coverage models, and helping define this century’s real change to teaching and learning. She is an author and media personality with twenty years of research, news media publishing and market leadership in the high tech, education and government industries.