Is 21 Century business education focused on the past via usual Harvard Case Studies or the future via interactions with those who lead the unusual?
American business ideas developed rapidly during the early 20th Century and spread to other countries. American business education emerged about 1950 and spread rapidly for five decades, before slowing. All of this was via a Russell Ackoff Operations Research story line that seemed to inspire until the dawn of the 21st Century. Those teaching in and pursuing that story did not seem to notice that Ackoff moved on in 1975 to a more systemic story of business success. As he said at the time: “Operations Research had a large opportunity but missed it. They are now of the past.” Now the business model is being challenged as never before, and the educational mission is questionable at best. New kinds of leaders
In line with Ackoff, the business model changed via IT and systems thinking. While courses in IT were offered the systems aspect of the new business model were mostly missed in schools. New kinds of leaders were emerging in business, but not in business education. In response, many leaders ignored business education, especially MBA training. E.g., leaders of Microsoft and Apple.
The American success story line began at the end of WWII, where the US was left as one of the only countries left with means to produce goods not destroyed by warfare. As such almost anything it could produce had eager customers. Quality and price were not foremost in the mind of customers. It seemed the US could do no wrong in the nineteen-fifties. From this context, several business schools expanded to attempt to prepare business leaders for this American approach to business. Mass consumption came to be presumed from mass production. In between was mass marketing. All presumed that the future that would be pretty well like the present.
The two major actions laid out were 1) a very strong emergence of the Harvard Case Method approach to teaching business practices, and 2) thinking that there could be a science of management education that replicated the public adoration of genuine sciences via publications, sort of peer reviews and sort of scholarly conferences.
Case method idea emerged in Harvard’s low esteem compared to the prestige given the Harvard Law School, resting on “case method.” The idea of there being scientific management came from adoration of Fredrick Winslow Taylor’s work under that title, and seeing the unquestioned prestige of the process of the sciences in universities and society. These two ideas set the tone for business education, the AACSB organization that certifies its qualities, and the mental skills of graduates from the more than seven hundred business schools that pledge their allegiance to the two ideas.
In both idea areas the title of “human resource management” became key. This type came to frame the idea, the implementation of it, and should take credit for the results, good and bad.
Overview of NJIT’s EMBA Program: The program was to have been a flagship for a new Direction in business education for New Jersey. Hawk helped create NJIT’s Executive Management program in 1993 with Dean Chakrabarti and President Fenster. It was to bring leadership education to the School of Business and then School of Engineering. Hawk created and led the international leadership component that helped the program quickly grow to 100 students/year. Student evaluations pointed out that the international program was what attracted them to the program. In 1999 Hawk went on leave from NJIT, leaving his EMBA role to others. During his absence the program declined to 12 students/year by turning the trips over to travel operatives to make it more fun and less work for NJIT staff, as well as accepting Newark high school teachers into the program.
Upper Left photo: An EMBA Stockholm trip to meet leaders of ABB, Ericsson, H &M and Ikea, each world leaders in their industries. Trip concluded with a presentation by Jonas Ridderstale, close friend and former student of Hawk, listed as the 4th leading business adviser to companies in the world (per the Financial Times). Jonas is author of the largest selling business book outside the English language. Titled: “Funky Business.” you can see more of it on the Funky Business website. Jonas has lectured to Putin’s G-8 meeting in St. Petersburg, to Bill Gates’ and his Board of Directors and to EMBA students at NJIT. (Via New Jersey Ethics rules Hawk was briefly charged with favouritism for paying a close friend, Jonas, to lecture at NJIT, until it was then discovered that Jonas had received no pay for his lecture.)
Upper Right Photo: EMBA students leaving a corporate visit with the President and Board of one of Europe’s most successful bio-tech companies, that was then seeking a location to expand into New Jersey. They later decided on New York and California due to the university research in those states.
Right Side, second down Photo: EMBA Trip to Europe, Scandinavia and the former Eastern Germany to meet company heads managing successful industrial reunification via new production technologies.
Bottom Photo: EMBA class visit to one of the world’s most secretive and successful companies, Bouygues. Located at the Challenger in Paris day long meetings were held with its executives. From its President and staff students learned how company executives defined change as difference over time, and prepared for it via night courses and lectures. (Hawk had been an adviser to them.) Martin Bouygues described how they emphasized learning as much as possible about American business practices, mostly from leading US professors and their books, and then working to avoid following them at all costs. In this way they had no international competitors, nor could business analysts understand them. (When the WSJ writes about them, they point out that whatever Bouygues touches turns to gold, but the Journal Editors do not understand how they do it.)
Recovering from 19th Century management lore is a key challenge for business and the schools that attempt to prepare business employees. Clarifying and responding to 21st Century Business Opportunities is key to future business success. Students should graduate with this foremost in their passions. What is this 19the Century stuff? A long standing management problem has been Frederick Taylor’s late 19th Century human resource themes of using time and motions studies to evaluate human performance. It was a means for HR people to locate the 10% to fire each evaluative period. Coupled to this was the HR use of Abraham Maslow’s silly hierarchy of needs relative to motivating employees more by always giving them less. Minimums were the rule, much like the current WalMart approach to using low minimum wages so that the government needs to subsidize most WalMart employees with good and housing assistance.
Current HR professors are special. They demonstrate how they know little about human behaviour, allocation of resources, Taylor’s studies and Maslow’s creation of a phoney hierarchy. There are reasons why HR Professors are the lowest paid in each business school faculty, per AACSB figures each year. This may be why most HR professors thus pretend they also know the more highly paid areas of a curriculum and, unfortunately, even try to teach outside HR.
Taylor’s approach to turning humans into robots haunts social organizations. The humor in this and the common sense alternatives are seen best seen companies found in international business, which HR instructors have not heard of. The self-actualization of Maslow was shown as worse then silly by Gandhi, King and all those we see to have self-actualized in life by abstaining from Maslow’s lower level needss.
19th Century information in Harvard cases keep Taylor and Maslow limitations alive. Hawk ever used such cases, instead providing examples via local and international executives into the classroom to discuss who they were and how they operated. For example, the President of IKEA, one of the world’s foremost companies according to BussinessWeek helped teach Hawk’s courses. Hawk would also take students on foreign study trips to visit heads of unusual and successful companies, ever though NJIT opposed it, and eventually brought man charges against him for conduct of the trips. The only actual problem with one of the trips occurred with then President Altenkirch interviewed in the travel bidding process to insist on using a firm where he liked the owner. The firm ended up showing it had no international business experience by booking flights on an airline that went bankrupt during the trip thus stopping the agenda, cancelling company visits and stranding the students. Hawk was forced to buy the students one-way tickets home. Once Hawk came him he was told “it happens.”
There were usually four trips per year with 20 to 40 EMBA students in each group. Visits were to companies in at least three countries in Asia, Europe, Scandinavia and South America on each trip. They were mostly companies with which Hawk had a prior advising relationship. Follow are some photos the provide a sketch of the trips.
When Hawk became Dean in 2005 he fired several involved in teaching in the EMBA Program. He hired several new faculty and the program again rose to 75 students/year. The program was scheduled to reach 200 students/year in September, 2008, with the expansion coming via three off-site corporate programs arranged with the CEOs of China Construction, IBM and Nokia. The off-site teaching would use non-NJIT teachers. The expansion would bring an additional $1o million/year to NJIT and esteem to its reputation. When Hawk was fired in January, 2008. The three companies cancelled the relationship to NJIT in March, 2008 due to the selection of Robert English as Acting Dean, a man with no Ph.D. and no knowledge of business education but was the university connection to athletics development.
English also took over management of a $2 million Chair Hawk had established for bio-tech entrepreneurship, disallowing the funds to go to the newly appointed Chair holder. English then banned Hawk from any involvement in the EMBA, fired some faculty Hawk had recruited, and returned the faculty to the EMBA that Hawk had removed. Under English’s leadership the EMBA went from 70 students back to 8 students/year. The $14,000/faculty research and conference allowance, derived from the EMBA, was suspened and Central NJIT Administration was forced to provide $200,000/year to keep the EMBA alive. After five years the accreditation Hawk had brought back from AACSB probation was once again was put into question due to low quantity and quality of faculty and lack of monetary support needed for faculty development. The EMBA was more like a broken mast then a School flagship.
2. A 21st Century Management opportunity: Aspirations outside the normal to prepare for leadership challenges. Upper right photo below is a sample of Hawk taking NJIT students to visit the world’s top universities, e.g, an NJIT group visiting China’s top university, Tsinghua University in Beijing where Hawk was a long term lecturer. Below that is a photo of a visit to Russia to meet with government and business leaders. Bottom photo is of Russian cultural exhibits seen during a visit to St Petersburg, crucial to Russian pride, which is crucial to Russian life and thinking.
The top left photo is from one of Hawk’s EMBA annual trips to Washington, DC, jointly organized with the Director of the EMBA, Ms. Elaine Frazier, to meet with Congressmen and lobbyist to see how US public policies were largely framed by lobbyist then acted on by Congress. Here we are meeting with the New Jersey Congressional delegation. This was to better understand where and how US Governmental practices fit into international business. Below the group is being taken on a tour of the Capital by New Jersey’s Congressional representatives.
3. Management Education Relative to 21st Century Opportunities, Where we are?
Leaving the dictates of the well-traveled road of education, where students become fed mostly irrelevant human resource confusion by less than knowledgeable human resource titled teachers. These teachers are mostly overpaid because HR faculty have the lowest salaries in business schools, yet after they pretend they know finance or governance they get their salaries raised far above their worth. Then tend to be rather bad instructors, regardless of what they attempt to teach. This may explain why the HR department in many companies is seen as a low point for purposeful accomplishment. Per school records the HR trained teachers have as their greatest desire to gain release time from meeting students so they might write incoherent and irrelevant human resource articles that perhaps six people read, including three reviewers. Their pretense at scientific peer review is carried out by editor friendly souls that they take to dinner at conferences where they meet. Records at AACSB and articles in the Economist are especially enlightening about this weakness in US business schools. A better model is sorely needed. Perhaps HR should be dropped from business curricula.
The 19the Century paradigm, outlined above, was further structured by bringing trade school education into the university to limit questions raised and conflict initiated. This was done under the guise of “professional” studies in the university. Initiated during the Germany of the 1930s it s not helpful in a changing society. The widespread political scandal of students being charged extreme interest on exorbitant student loans is only half the ethical problem. The mostly ignored other half lies with what students are charged via mismanagement of academic resources by leaders following each other in taking student money and time to follow the personal sports fantasies of university presidents and non governed governing boards.
This is being challenged in life-long learning skills as developed in life and on internet via asking why, then why not, then seeing the wow in new pathways, then inviting others to join the vision? This is seen world wide in beautiful side roads that by-pass crumbling infra-structures, avoid the out of date dead-ins and see the systemic in connections while seeing no need for the traditional analytic that requires weaker thinkers to find cause-effect conclusions in non causal networks.
The most that can be and often is said about formal education while faculty review the best student of student work is “It’s very hard to kill a talent.” The clearest evidence of current wrong doing in education is seen in how leaders in the leading industries became leaders by avoided the worst of traditional classroom and faculty pretending to know all while knowing little, to even nothing. Small values are being sold at large costs. Its time to ask the process for creating disabling professions why?
Thus, its time to ask why along with where shall we go? One pathway is to work to see and and reduce Human Wrongs while working to Enhance Human Rights.
4. A way Forward in Management Education via confronting the Ethics in the 1776 Faustian Tragedy, a Dilemma bound into the US Constitution (Scalia, a Sicilian representative on Reagan’s Supreme Court illustrates how to insure no resolution to the dilemma of soul selling, ever.)
- Human Wrongs: Humans doing wrong are clearly expensive to humans and their larger environment. Some costs are immediate with some longer term, and some very long term and quite ominous for conditions of life. Even if some humans are smart enough to know they are doing wrong why do they continue? Those humans seem to have a passion for egocentric power as primarily measured via private wealth. To them the 1965 idea of “the commons,” or that which we hold in common to support the community, is only one more resource available to support their God-right to succeed. Or where success seems to go wrong the same God can be seen to have a plan to bring believers home to a nicer place while setting the earth on fire, or letting some enter heaven to retrieve their god given rights to many virgins. Supposedly this scheme of heavenly power is designed by men for men. These private rights for select men are clearly a basis for much wrong regardless of where the platform is for evangelical or Isis fighters. The private is what matters, where Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest (measured as fattest in humans) overrides all other ideas for human right and wrong.
- Measuring the Wrong: Context is everything, even the basis of the long term health of all living systems. It is clearly easy to see wrong doing where the commons are being deteriorated or emptied of resources in the name of glorification of self. As was shown in 1970s research the context is the common basis for social and environmental stability and well-being. When in the words of Eric Trist the environment becomes “turbulent” it endangers all living systems, including the social. 1975-1977 research in Sweden, carried out via major multinational corporations working in many countries illustrated many things. First was how the unquestioned quest for power in the short term often comes at the price of deteriorating the long term. Often the short term defines the long term, where there is no long term. Arguing that there are long term technical solutions to ameliorate the wrong over time, as the National Environmental Policy Act public sector lawyers did in 1969, or arguing its not even a wrong, as private sector lawyers did, or even going so far as to say it doesn’t happen, as Congressional Representatives do in writing laws, is simply wrong. How can those concerned about the long term consequences of wrong headed results achievement in the short term respond? To start, how can we even know the difference between human wrongs and rights with certainty? Can we know a priori or must we wait until its too late? There are at least two categories of human wrongs in terms of what they result from: 1) Some wrongs derive from simple lack of knowledge as to what is right. This relates to the infinite lack of knowledge in and about our world. The focus here is not with this stimulus for research. 2) Herein we look to areas where the right is known but purposefully ignored or avoided. The first category can be dealt with via better better research, more genuine leadership and improved management. How to deal with the second category poses intriguing challenges. It is an integral aspect of strategy. It involves situations where the right is clearly known and clearly avoided. The first category deals with the right and wrong of purpose while the second takes us into the good and bad of morality.
- Wrong versus Right, Bad versus Good: Wrongful actions are widely accepted as a threat to human existence yet from where do our responses to wrongs arise? Than, added to this is the more fine grained distinction between what is good and bad, via an ethical standard. A right action can be bad, as well as good. A bad actions can be good as well as bad. This is much like the first year law school course that instructs students to distinguish between the law and ethics, then “go with the law as written,” and “avoid the swamp of ethics.” a) Practicing in a profession under this advice may be why lawyers are the least trusted profession in society, and most void of ethics, as well as writers of the incomprehensible.
- Lawyers Insuring The Word and its Estranged Interpretation is always above Ethics: Since three quarters of the members of Congress were trained as lawyers this may be the crucial link to why politicians are so universally distrusted, especially in their competence to govern. If true, then we need to unravel the relations between the wrong and right and bad and good. Each is judged as based on a context, where the bad good comes from a larger context. b) Good/bad comes from two major sources: 1) Seeking purpose to escape mortality, and morality. To be remembered outweighs the moral merit. It has been noted by others how seeking the momentous overrides the ethics of what is being sought. This problem of humanity is presented in Ernest Becker’s 1974 Pulitzer Prize winning book, “Denial of Death,” that links the quest for the most significant with the highest forms of evil, often ending in war. Providing a foundation for this line of thought in the making of Western Man is the Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faustian notes of 1775.
- The Faustian Dilemma, or Tragedy, of seeking short term results at whatever ethical costs, while ignoring the longer term consequences from achieving those results, has become the definition of Western Man; perhaps even a changing Eastern Man. 2) Then, perhaps of greater longest term concerns, are human aspirations associated with explicit and implicit defying of the entropy law. The Second Law of Thermodynamics provides the longest term measure of merit of all human endeavors. c) Then, finally, we need look at education and its role in the equation of change of human wrongs in that it prepares humans to achieve results, to bypass entropic concern and to emphasize achieving results ever more efficiently; to do wrong things ever more efficiently.
- Productivity and Attainment of the Trivial: It is as if the editors of the Economist Magazine had finally managed to elevate productivity to life’s purpose. Associated with this is a legal system set up to administer the context for all social systems, to sort out definitions of right/wrong, order/disorder and lawfulness. With time legal systems come to be controlled by those with property to protect the rights of property, property accrued via our achievement of results. With time education becomes construed to enhance the process, not a quest for knowledge in general. Students are taught of the importance of purpose and results achievement, with little concern for the right or wrong of results. Meanwhile separate results coalesce into a systemic whole were the distinction between right and wrong emerges in the consequences that were largely unknown and mostly unintended. In this manner results coalesce into context, thus context soon becomes everything. This everything becomes the challenge of our time but makes context largely unrecognizable until its mostly too late to respond. While we invest considerable resources to avoid seeing the connections between intended results and unexpected consequences the links on occasion become embarrassing clear.
- The human condition faces Climate Change: Humans increasingly face the dangers of the unresolved dilemmas in conditions of consequence emerging in their environments and their souls. The dual challenge from entropy processes and Faustian bargains seem intractable. We see this in the wrongs of families, organizations, nations and in the consequential climate of the planet. This phenomenon was researched in 1975 in “Environmental Protection: Analytic Solutions in Search of Synthetic Problems.” It deals the human centered short-term quest to build perpetual motion machines and organizations, where neither is possible. This is the Faustian Bargain on the grand scale. The bargain is nurtured by too optimistic of science (i.e., we can do anything) and too pessimistic legal processes (we must be hard on rule breakers that often just seek another way home).
- Context is Everything, Ethics is Important: Perhaps the best response it to simply include more context in science and and more ethics in law. Each will enhance the necessary appreciation of human wrongness. Just now scientists and lawyers rely of ego-worship combined with very limited and often wrong knowledge to rely on case methods. Both can then point to false clarity while demanding higher salaries. Both groups then avoid seeing their Faustian dealings while heading towards Faustian Tragedies. Both groups work to corrupt Socratic truths. Professional schools seem to be the proving ground for scientist and business people to achieve unfortunate objectives while lawyers are groomed to become corrupt politicians, judges and business advisers.
- Human Rights: For example, learning to envision humans as members of a systemic cosmic whole, where life, ethics, context and knowledge matters, and shifting humans from unsupportable beliefs in unlimited worship of material wealth or dreams of immaterial religious escape hatches into a make-believe world of the irrational outside life allowing suspend of all reasoning.
- From Human Wrongs to Rights, Corrective Actions: Suspending the arrogance encouraged in the educational process gained from education and instead turn to the fundamental questioning supporting learning. Using criticism learning via questioning to look for and recognize the very fundamental difference between practices of leadershit and espousals of leadership. This will allow humans to shift from fiddling with the fixed to managing the moving.
Until concern for deeply seated human rights replaces extensive, almost limitless, investing in human wrongs we need to keep the societal pot on which we depend from boiling over. Our best short term approach is to “stir it.” Periods of boiling over, such as Europe in the 1930s, illustrates life facing challenges it cannot meet until the conditions of societal life are destroyed and humans give up on their trivial differences, i.e., differences that do not make a difference to life.
WHERE SHALL WE GO: ARRIVING AT AN AGENDA WHILE STIRRING THE POT TO GAIN TIME
1) Questioning the Educational, 2) Challenging the Judicial, 3) Nurturing the process of Questioning (i.e., Learning). Learning is denied by a legal order and supported in a negotiated order.
General Objective: Having a social fabric based on Negotiated Order, not Legal Order
The legal order/negotiated order distinction emerged in 1970 while I was studying in Darmstadt, Germany. It was quickly noted that in German culture the idea of “order” appeared as the most desirable of human conditions, to be achieved at all costs. One approach to order was seen as a legal order based on closely prescribed written rules of conduct. That order was mostly fixed and harshly enforced. I later saw this same attitude influencing the US approach to bringing and maintaining order in the US as seen in my international research comparing methods of environmental regulation. The US, largely counter productive, approach was designed to be extensively specified, sometimes oppressive, often ignorant in how it used naive lawyers seeking employment to oversee the process. Often their persona; wealth outranked societal objectives. The “strategy” of the 1969 NEPA Act was to build a legal order based on forcing others to come up with impossible technologies under legal threat. The result was extensive hiring of lawyers to delay the process and insure wrong doing was not punished.
Due to US law being based on case method interpretation it was more aware of variations in case by case discussion. The US system of “negotiation” perhaps needs to not be based on corporate status and personal wealth. This is where those who risk billions in public monies are give public financed bonuses while those caught with a small amount of health related drugs go to prison for decades or those said to been involved in attracting a esteemed scientist in her field to teach NJ students is fired.
Human wrongs have come to be associated with legal order, human rights with negotiated order. Negotiated order is of transparency in process, open discourse of evolving result. Legal order requires secrecy of process and obfuscation of fixed result. Negotiated order lies on the qualities of the verbal, legal order on the quantities of the written, usually in incomprehensible legalese.
Legal order requires teaching the core. This is via fixed subjects such as Euclid’s postulates, for example, 4c, “the law of parallels.” While it is only a speculative postulate it is offered up as a law. It thus said to be a part of a foundation, to be believe and remember forever, not simple postulated upon. It is thus a basis for building a life with meaning and a chance to be productive. For those interested in moving above all this, for operating above education, is that they would ask why is this a rule, and it certainly is not a law? In fact it is a highly arbitrary postulate about how to deal with our world. As one moves to the edges one sees that our world is structured by such postulates yet it could all be different. In the universe and in nature there are no parallels. If Euclid were to be suspended or disallowed our environment, e.g., our buildings, would all be different. The results, where they occur, point to exciting alternatives to business as usual. It is similar with too great of reliance on the Bible, especially by those in leadership who have never read the document.
Herein education is set in an historic context. This is to see the basis of the long-held presumptions beneath education, and its widely assumed role at the center of a society. Based on growing conflicts within and between social groups, as well as between humans and their natural environment, a re-examination appears timely.
There are growing conflicts at the individual level relative to what education prepares us to anticipate relative to what we actually encounter in our separate realities. Armed with the growing sophistication of armaments and information on how and where to use them the individual has more options for bad then the social group they hold a grievance for. Teaching people that they have a fundamental and unassailable right to bear arms to protect themselves and their social groups in order to maintain security insures that they will encounter the consequences of great danger and significant social instability. Perhaps attention should begin with that which is presumed to be most sacred and most timeless to the human project.
Education is crucial to society and fundamental to how a society defines itself and its ideals. Education has brought much to the idea of human situation over the past century. Since that situation is now facing serious questions then so must the educational component. The results of industrialization are at best seen as a mixed blessing for systems of life. At worse they are seen as a threat to life. Thus, at minimum we should see what the options are. There are different approaches in the form and content of education. Students have changed, the world has changed, and the challenges to the environment of live are great.
Individuals and species need new ideas and practices for relating to each other and to nature. As a basis there needs to be a renewed understanding of our universe. The widely accepted idea of “Business as Usual” is seen to be in decline as the consequences of its results. If it continues it may mean the end of business as we humans have come to know it. Much innovation is needed all around.
At the base of human aspirations we see how conquest over nature, including human nature and the nature we see in humans that we may disagree with, is not working. One likely outcome will be irrational usage of the technology of industrial progress, including nuclear explosives by governments or individuals. Social change to deal with this will need to emerge alongside climate change. Change in the social and technical areas is expensive. Changelessness, the current societal operating ideal, is expensive to maintain until we arrive at its troublesome end state.
The time is limited for viable responses. To gain a bit of time we need to delay the boiling point. Thus, the metaphor behind this is: “How do you keep a pot from boiling over? You stir it.” Now begins the stirring.
Humans made a fateful choice in 5th Century BC, Pre-Socratic Greece, a choice that continued throughout all Western empires and major social groups, including public and private organizations. Consequences of the choice continues into the present. The choice came from a seductive image of humans believing they were capable of maintaining stability and a status quo in the face of change; most of the change being unpredictable. This grew from a homo-centric image of people overpowering nature via innovative social and technical means. This allowed for dreams of permanence of some ideas and some individuals via the omnipotence allowed by “maintenance.”
Humans embraced an idea that they could create and maintain a state of “timelessness.” The attention once given to designing the timeless has lately shifted towards and idea of humans working to achieve “sustainability.”
It is perhaps worth noting that the same choice was taken in 5th Century BC China as in Greece.
The dream of changelessness can be seen to drive a nightmare of environmental consequences, categorized as natural change, catching up with humans and their preference for focusing on short term results. It is similar to the work of Chainsaw Al Dunlap when he won rave reviews on Wall Street for doubling Scott Paper productivity in the very short term by laying off half the employees and closing down all longer term activities. This was not a problem for Dunlap in that he moved on from Scott prior to Scott moving down.
The alternative is for humans to learn to live in the more fluid world of natural and continuous evolution and change. This is the essence of what underlies global climate change, and what it says about human prospects.
Steeped in early fear of the unknown, Greek society adopted to the idea of stability. Along with this came an exaggerated fear of difference within and over time and a growing reverence for sameness. The culture of the usual was embraced while the unusual was shunned, even feared. In more poetic terms the few escaped the cultural bondage of Plato’s Cave, but even they returned to its warmth. Standing against this ideology of timelessness was Socrates, but alas he did lose his version of the fight. Other versions continue in the wider contemporary societies, especially in their schools and courtrooms. The idea of maintenance of the static resisting the flow of the fluid continues beyond ancient Greece.
Significant societal resources have gone into the maintenance required for stability. Perhaps as high as 90% of human effort in invested in maintaining business as usual. In an environment of change maintenance become expensive. It must build walls against change from external and internal forces. Education is key to maintaining was is or in dealing with internal change. The emphasis as been on the former, with the later being the most challenging. Climate change illustrates the difficulties for the human project in the latter.
Were humans right to place business as usual as the central value in the human project, and thus the purpose for education? The pre-Socratic choice was fundamental to the challenges facing humans then and now perhaps even more so. They are the source for human conflict with their environment and each other over the scare resources flowing in business as usual. This is easy to see in our conflict with nature via costs of climate change intrinsic to that conflict. Did humans get it wrong in 500 BC? Would an emphasis on change and allowing the questions that invite change via learning have been a less expensive means to build the human project? This is the key question in that which follows.
The choices about educating a society’s youth can be characterized in many ways. Should we depend on what others have called po dunk universities, carrying out a largely unquestioned agenda in the shadow of Ivy League leadership? This would be seen in many Rutgers and New Jersey Institutes of Technology working as yomen, via public sponsorship, to meet ill defined public interests. These would be operating under the halo of a Princeton University that is presumed to know about where the educational system is going. Widely accept in New Jersey is this system the best New Jersey can do? If we discover that Princeton doesn’t know and NJIT doesn’t care what would we do? Both are often seen to behave like small fiefdoms managed by badly prepared individuals who act like presidents of second rate profit making company, with no profit.
Probably we can do better. Education, widely accepted as a doorway into the future, is an important subject for examination. What should the content be? What should the means of transmission look like?
The NJIT/Princeton dichotomy seems managed to extract money from students and their families, all for questionable ends. There is a much sounder, more historic difference in society that once selected would profoundly effect education form and content. Herein the choice will be between reality as changeless of changing.
One side of the dichotomy over change was articulated in 5th Century BC Greece by Parmenides. He spoke of “the way of truth” where reality is on and thus change is not possible. Existence becomes timeless, unchanging, uniform and necessary. This is called the world of “changelessness.” He advises us to close down our sensory conceptions as they only access he world of appearances which are deceitful and false. This came to have a large impact on all of Western Philosophy via the teachings of Plato. In his famous cave metaphor the Princeton graduates were the few allowed to escape from the bondage and see the daylight above before returning to manage the cave.While not the subject matter herein almost the same value system was present in the East during the same time, where Confusion values came to be the package for Eastern Changelessness. What is the alternative? In the East it was clearly Lao Tzu. What is it in our culture of the West? That will be the emphasis herein.
Where a society emphasizes the importance of the wonders of what was and what now it there will be a concentration of timelessness. Humans naturally strive for stability to live out life but does this stability need to be anti change? What will be the price paid for this stability, especially if what humans do in their actions to maintain stability is what creates instability? Those actions to preserve changelessness are the actions that mask the initiation of major changes. It is like the result we strive for is to resist change yet in our actions to resist change we create more momentous change as a consequence. Another way to see this is to see how our educational processes focus inward on the core of what humans know, while the avoiding the turmoil at the edges. If true the consequences are frightening for our species.
Current education gives emphasis to the core of what perhaps once was and now is. Armed with fixed operating assumptions and set societal values citizens are seen to strive for stability. The other attitude is more in line with concerns of Socrates, of how to allow society to be more of a flow, more like natural processes. Advocating change he encouraged youth to learn of movement and growth in ideas relative to what a society is and what it wants to become. Thus, he was seen as an enemy of what many in charge saw as the most fundamental of tenants to keep society and their position in it fixed – stability. Many leaders, in name only, came to define stability as changelessness. This is most easily seen in the US Government where grid lock is seen as a good, or better then the obvious worse from change. Socrates never spoke against stability, but did argue for a more dynamic form to accommodate the environmental surprises to a society, surprises that lead to the demise of the society.
Rethinking the downside of the tradition of everyone using the industrial highway is becoming ever more timely. Seeking less traveled byways to then find the yet to be known of our world seems crucial. Even lacking this argument for supporting research and development, we now see how the current highway is expensive and hard to maintain, and its use has unfortunate consequences on the environment. We need to pursue more informed information pathways, not remain fixated on those that are to move mas, not ideas. We need to find ways to embrace the dynamics of Einstein while reducing the emphasis on Newtonian statics. Knowledge via the industrial route was highly mechanistic. The question for efficiency, of doing the wrong faster, replaced concern for doing the right. Early in industrialization nature stepped aside, temporarily, to watch. Now that the consequences are unfortunate, or untenable, humans are became angry, mostly at themselves and the consequences of their results.
Learning from alternative routes to knowing allows reconsideration of the more natural, the more systemic and less hierarchical. The differences can be seen in non-Euclidean geometry, systemic thinking and ethical transparency via via the metaphysics of presuppositions.
Education concentrates its process on acquisition/memorization of what is known. Stability of inputs and outputs is crucial. Learning is different. It comes from questioning, from asking why and why not. It moves from the core of what is know to the edges of what is constantly unfolding. It seems more dangerous in that by definition it lacks predictability. There are clear reasons for why our systems emphasize education and seem to shy from learning. Its somewhat close to the dilemma of the Catholic Church, “The Church is dead, long live the Church.” Of course there are costs associate with the stability of educating in the answers associated with the “I know.” It is expensive to maintain fixations in a dynamic setting. There are cost associated with knowledge being relevant or even true.
Two important topics challenge the implied stability in knowing: The Second Law of Thermodynamics and The Faustian Tragedy.
The Mother Law, The Second Law, the “Entropy Law”
Humans’ seem shy, afraid, angry at, even repulsed by the Second law of Thermodynamics. This is where universal entropy processes move from order to disorder, from heat to cold, and the more active the more rapid is the transformation. Humans have no capacity to reverse this process het they market and trade in schemes of perpetual motion, carry out practices that rely on reversibility, hold to dreams of immortality, worship recycling and push dictates of 19th Century economic systems that bring 21st Century consequences.
This situation of entropic denial is important. It defines our current human aspirations. It invites perpetual motion fantasies in: machines, mechanisms and social processes, all of which are disallowed by entropy, but are widely praised. Opposition to entropic considerations becomes a religion, a barrier to critical thinking. It seeks leadership in those appearing to exhibit the overblown confidence of “I know.” We thus seek and find leaders into unfortunate directions.
Yes, reality has a way of eventually presenting itself and dismantling the base of “I know” as is now seen in the troubled beginnings of the 21st Century. While avoided in chemistry classes and totally left from courses on economic processes, the role of entropy has never been connected to problems in the educational processes. Entropy is at the core of the deterioration in climate change. Current economic ideas and ideals coupled to religious strictures encourage practices leading to consequences in our environments.
Humans seem out of touch with larger processes. How can we create cultures that are less expensive to their environments.
Entropy ought to be at the heart of educational processes. Avoidance of the role of entropy in our universe provides a clue as to the inherent flaw in educational thinking and practice. Short term results are what matters, while longer term consequences are left to the wonders of technological development, and then when those technologies are disallowed by entropy, to the conditions for our grandchildren.
“The Entropy Law is still surrounded by many conceptual difficulties and equally numerous controversies. But this is not the reason why most natural scientists would agree that it occupies a unique position among all laws of matter. Sir Arthur Eddington even maintained that the position is “supreme.” The important fact is that the discovery of the Entropy Law brought the downfall of the mechanistic dogma of Classical physics which held that everything which happens in any phenomenal domain whatsoever consists of locomotion alone and, hence, there is no irrevocable change in nature. It is precisely because this law proclains the existence of such a change that before too long some students perceived its intimate connection with the phenomena peculiar to living structures. By now, no one would deny that the economy of biological processes is governed by the Entropy Law, not by the laws of mechanics.”
“The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, 1971, p xiii.
If perpetual motion associated with reversibility of machines and immortality of humans was disallowed to the human condition, how would education need to be changed? If the education process was itself visualized as a perpetual machine that simply encourages perpetual motion thinking, and this was seen to be wrong, how might we change it? Where might we find the “road less travelled”? Probably we would begin to look at the edges of our systems, especially for the cracks appearing at those edges. In the words of Leonard Cohen, “Cracks are what lets the light in.”
The Faustian Tragedy:
Education ought to deal with light, not dark.