Dealing with complexity – David Jones & the third way for education

David Jones has posted an interesting piece about how he sees an alignment between the third way popularised in politics and what might be needed in education: The need for a third way « The Weblog of (a) David Jones.

He lines up the conservative/republican (in US terms) block with the traditional approach based on teachers doing their own thing in their own way without regard to any concerns about teaching and learning. The liberal/democrat block is aligned with the currently common approach to management by objectives and compliance. The third way is aligned with libertarian paternalism and accepts the inherent complexity of teaching with the expectation that teachers will find their way through by making decisions that incrementally improve teaching.

My own experience over the past few years has been of increasing focus on compliance with bureaucratic systems as a means of assuring quality. At times it feels like a headlong dash back to the 19th century and hierarchies of command and control rather than moving forward into the 21st century and networks. Managers sometimes seem to be locked into a Theory X view that assumes the worst of everybody rather than assuming that most people, most of the time, will be doing their best.

All of this runs counter to the need to support development of sufficient variation in approaches to provide the basis for evolution by selection of more effective approaches. Requiring compliance to any system is a dead end strategy that assumes this is as good as it gets and leaves no scope for improvement by tinkering around the edges.

There is some benefit in ensuring that certain basics are in place but there is also room for some variation that provides scope for the next improvement to emerge.

2 Responses

  1. It’s both reassuring (in terms of shared pain) and sad that both of our recent experience is so similar and at the same time so ill-informed.

    I wonder if there’s an Australian university that has escaped this plight?


  2. I don’t know of any but I suppose it’s possible there are occasional glimpses of hope. Our compliance regime ramped up in anticipation of the AUQA visit last year. Perhaps it may ease off a little before we start the next run up but the demands for compliance seem to be increasing rather than decreasing just yet.