I had been briefly introduced to the idea of Complexity Theory as a unifying theory of education a few years ago by a Tyndale colleague, but had not really had the opportunity to delve into the concept in any great detail. I liked the suggestion of an organism (in this case, presumably a student, a teacher, or even the classroom) as part of an interdependent, dynamic relationship with its environment. The idea of distributed knowledge appealed to me, as did the
Unfortunately, what began with such promise soon turned to disappointment; the verbose nature of the beast continued without reprieve; I had to take a number of breaks in my reading, sometimes several days long!
Morrison seems intent on writing “around” the issue. He addresses “aspects of complexity theory” and facts with which CT “concerns itself”, but never really defines the theory itself in any concrete way. After innumerable references to endless authors and studies, I am left bewildered and irritated.
There is little new in this broad collection of observations about the complex nature of education, nor are there any surprises in the critique provided.
Do we really need 12 garrulous pages to enlighten us
that curriculum reforms, and indeed, education itself,
is “multi-level, multi-dimensional, multi-faceted,
multi-agent, and multi-perspectival” in nature?
Any teacher who has spent five years in a classroom, waiting to develop expertise in her craft, and who suddenly realizes how little, in fact, she knows about how to best “do” her chosen profession can testify to the multi-everything-ness of this line of work!
As Morrison himself states, “one has to ask whether [his article] is not simply a [rather verbose!] statement of the obvious.” (Parenthesis mine.)
And while I appreciate his point that complexity theory is a descriptive or reflective theory, I – as a die-hard practitioner – still need the application piece.
Show me the meat!
Where’s the “so what”, as a former program supt. in our Board used to say?!
The one later point Morrison makes which resonates with me to some degree is this: “Complexity theory affords the opportunity for a re-awakening of several educational topics which have been relatively silent in climates of high control of education, heavy prescription and mandated contents, reinforced by high-stakes assessment systems and constant surveillance of an individual’s performance against predicted targets.”
I remember, as a new and enthusiastic teacher, jumping eagerly on every bandwagon, being chided by my more seasoned colleagues. They had “seen it all before”, as they often liked to say. Now that I myself have been teaching for nearly two decades, I, too, see some recurring themes (or, as I like to call it, “same shit, different smell”, or Morrison, “new wine in old bottles”!) And what is most frustrating to me is that we never seem to go really deep with one thing before dumping it in favour of the next flavour of the month!!
I am grateful (because of the heavily funded and release time supported TLLP I am involved in) for the opportunity to play with a few interesting facets of education this year – namely Bansho in math, smartboard technology, and “choice” -- with an equally zealous but healthily sceptical colleague, to delve a little deeper and more meaningfully into these, and to enrich my understanding, practice and reflection about these. Although it will be a challenge to keep the lens focussed, especially with the very real demands of the classroom, school and ministry expectations, I am convinced that it will be a fruitful exercise.
In addition to writing big words on my blog, I will help actual students learn and grow in a real classroom!
Teaching is complex. No kidding.