Run away from “top-down, one-size-fits-all”

Michael Bloomberg wrote a wonderful piece entitled Why Cities are the Key to Fighting Climate Change. The article focuses on why local government–specifically, urban populations–is the least fragile way to solve 21st century problems. Money quote:

Nations and cities that fail to prepare for the urban population explosion risk creating, or worsening, slum conditions that frighten investors, perpetuate a permanent underclass, and impede national progress. The best way to prepare is not by implementing top-down, one-size-fits-all centralized programs but by empowering cities themselves to solve problems, invest in their futures, and harness the potential of their residents.

How does this apply to education? By avoiding “top-down, one-size-fits all centralized programs,” and empowering districts and counties to solve problems on their own, we can avoid fragility within the systems that support student learning.

  • Interventions should not be accomplished through Systems (notice the capital “S”) but rather embedded within instruction and assessment.
  • Lesson plans must be nimble and able to change minute by minute.
  • The quality of the teacher in the classroom is the most important factor regarding student learning. Instead of spending money on consultants, technology, and intricate top-down programs, seek smart individuals who know how to teach and pay them well.

Fragile, robust, antifragile (with pictures!)

Once you think in terms of antifragility, you start to view education–and life–in new ways. Because I find the concept so important, I try to explain it to anyone who will listen. Medicine, business, politics, international affairs, education, and pretty much every other field can benefit from an understanding of antifragility. Yesterday I was telling a coworker about all of the concept’s benefits, and she added, ‘It’s important for marriages, too.’ I think it’s important in all areas of life. I could go on and on about how an antifragile philosophy can be beneficial in a multitude of ways, but as usual, I’ll focus on education. Here’s another go at explaining what Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined in the book Antifragile, with pictures I recently drew:

FRAGILE

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Think of an egg. You drop it on the ground, and it looks like this:

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That’s fragility; introduce a little force or instability, and destruction soon follows. Fragility should be avoided at all costs: fragile investments, fragile jobs, fragile people… the list goes on.

What does fragility look like in education? Intervention just for the sake of intervention. Unsustainable 1:1 deployments. Rigid adherence to curriculum. Lack of training. Implementation of (big) ‘Systems’. Teachers isolated in classrooms. Spending money on programs, training, and technology that isn’t helpful. Unneeded hierarchy and bureaucracy. A narrow understanding how to increase student learning.

ROBUST
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Think of a bowling ball. You drop it on a tile kitchen floor, and it looks like this:
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That’s robustness. introduce a little force or instability, and the object, person, organization, etc. isn’t affected. ‘It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.’ Obviously, this is much more ideal than fragility; it’s where the bumper sticker ‘Tough times go away; tough people don’t’ comes into play.

What does robustness look like in education? A program that can keep functioning with a lack of funds. Lesson plans that are effective year to year. A 1:1 deployment the district can maintain in regards to maintenance and training. A well-rounded understanding of how students learn. A district that is financially stable. Quick reaction to unforeseen events.

ANTIFRAGILE
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Think of Hydra. You remember Hydra? When you cut off one of its heads, two more sprout back in its place, like this:
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That’s antifragility; introduce a little force or instability, and the object, person, organization, etc. becomes stronger. Think of it: Does chaos or conflict make our international relations stronger? Does instability make your job stronger? If you’re an architect, does force make your building stronger or weaker?

What does antifragility look like in education? It’s a 1:1 deployment where the devices can be used in new and interesting ways when the Wi-Fi is down. It’s not having to be reactionary. It’s teachers who think quickly on their feet and provide engaging lesson plans, even in the midst of a lock-down. It’s principals who come up with amazing programs, activities, and training sessions on a shoestring budget. It’s districts who thrive in times of financial hardship. It’s students who enjoy fixing technology in their classrooms and view broken devices as challenges and learning experiences. It’s a district or school who, like Hydra, becomes stronger, smarter, and more experienced during times where other districts and schools crumble.

I recommend examining your school and district and determining where it’s fragile, robust, and antifragile. I also encourage you to examine your life and see which areas can be moved to the robust or antifragile side of the spectrum. You’ll be doing yourself, and those you love, a huge favor.

Fragile, robust, antifragile

Here’s a breakdown of an idea from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s fantastic book, Antifragile:

There are three conditions in which people, businesses, governments, etc., find themselves: fragile, robust, and antifragile.

Fragile: Anything that’s fragile can break easily. Think of an egg. If you drop it on the kitchen floor, it will break.

Robust: Anything that’s robust can withstand something bad without damage. Think of dropping a bowling ball on the floor.

Antifragile: Anything that’s antifragile will not just withstand damage, the contact will make it stronger.

Following this explanation, what do you think Wall Street is? The government?

You?