Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Definite -v- Indefinite and Optimism -v- Pessimism

I was in an R&D meeting at school today.  During this meeting we were discussing the Map of the Decade, a 10 year outlook.  We were talking about the shifts that are happening and the impacts that these are going to make, and how these could or should affect education.

These discussions drew us to a book published last year by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters entitled Zero to One:  Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.  In this book the mindsets of societies and individuals are discussed.  These fall along the Optimist-Pessimist spectrum, about how a society thinks the world is going (getting better or getting worse) and the Definite-Indefinite spectrum, about how we are going to reach the future.

Scot Hoffman, our R&D Coordinator, related these to schools:

Indefinite Pessimism:  An ‘indefinitely pessimistic’ school looks out at a bleak future but has no idea what to do about it. For these schools the golden age is past; things are moving too fast; they don’t know what to do about the future or are hoping that somebody else can do something about it.

Definite Pessimism:  A ‘definitely pessimistic’ school believes that the future can be known and changed. However these schools approach the future by planning for the worst in order to weather the storms the future is bound to bring. This excludes planning to change the way things are.

Indefinite Optimism:  An ‘indefinitely optimistic’ school believes that the future will be better but they don’t consider how this will be so.  Instead of designing for the future, these schools focus on incremental change, improving efficiency and optimizing systems.

Definite Optimism:  A ‘definitely optimistic’ school believes the future will be better than the present. They pursue knowing what can be known about the future in order to take action. They envision what they want the future to be and how they might get there. ‘Definitely optimistic’ schools engage in creating big bold new things that will shape their future.

I think this can also be applied at the level of individual teachers within a school.  I have worked with people who look backwards and say "Things were better before when ....", or "Here's a new approach, but the pendulum will swing the other way again in a few years, so let me just keep my head down and sit tight and soon my method will be back in vogue again."  I've also worked with people who are ready to jump on a whole load of new initiatives without really changing or examining their underlying philosophy or pedagogy.

Of course, being in a school that has an R&D department, we hope that ASB is a definitely optimistic school.  We are studying and prototyping new teaching and learning approaches, transforming ASB for the future.

Photo Credit: tomylees via Compfight cc

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