Definitio-old paradigms

In a post in May to a listserv I mentioned “old paradigms” and noted it would be too long for a post to go into what I meant. So I would like to try here, briefly but with examples.

The term “dominant paradigm” has entered our vocabulary along with “paradigm shift” partly due to Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. A friend is outraged that the real originator of this idea, Ludwik Fleck, is ignored. It took me forever to find Ludwik on Google b/c I had only his last name on the tip of my tongue. I tried to read the book my friend owns by Fleck but found it daunting. Fleck uses scientists’ collective views in investigating syphilis and the book consists largely of detailed discussions of microbiology which my friend follows easily and I not at all.

Nevertheless, this tangled skein of who came up with the notion exemplifies the difficulties we face in understanding why it is so difficult to get teachers to do what seems obvious: participate with your students in their learning of the TL. A film I show my students is titled The Business of Paradigms by Joel Barker. He is a pompous but entertaining presenter of Kuhn’s ideas. It gets my students thinking b/c Barker does show how we sink into familiar patterns of thinking to the extent that we are blinded to demands for adaptation. Adaptation is what has allowed the human species to dominate the planet.

Leaving aside for the moment whether that’s a good thing or not (I write this in the midst of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and spreading), what often kills groups of human beings is their failure to adapt.

What causes this failure if adaptation is our hallmark? I’ll take that up tomorrow, 6/13/10, our 46 wedding anniversary.

OK, it’s the 14th. I got busy on my anniversary.
Teachers find adaptation difficult b/c they are usually pushed to the limit by a deficient ed system. Too many students, no time for collaboration, no money for workshops and training or travel to such, bureaucratic demands for finely tuned lesson plans tuned to the needs of faceless state and district admins, and, incidentally, families, since few teachers make the salaries that allow go-getters in finance, medicine, law, business, etc. to turn their family duties over to caretakers. How many teachers are taking care of their children plus aging parents?

Now, there are non-institutional factors that cause foot-dragging; I don’t want to minimize those. But we first have to account for not just the resentment but the rage when teachers are challenged in the way they are teaching. My experience was of breathless advocates for some untried approach that demanded reading, training, and elaborate in-class procedures, all piled on top of what teachers were already doing.

The model for all this? The prep period; 53 minutes to do paperwork, call parents, write up admin reports, catch up on reading in our field, collaborate with colleagues, write up lesson plans complete with coded objectives and goals, update the bulletin board, and go to the bathroom.

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