I just finished Joshua Cooper Ramoâ€™s alarmingly insightful bestseller, The Age of the Unthinkable.Â Within his text, Ramo artfully unravels a large portion of our ideology and methodology in the arenas of foreign affairs and global economics.Â As an educator and advocate, I am often prone to disdainfully approach this sort of heady discourse as platitudinousâ€”luxurious dialogue afforded those intellectuals who have not muddied their boots in the developing worldâ€”great ideas with little impact other than to generate consulting opportunities for their exponents.Â Despite my cynical starting point, the book proved to be a sincerely sobering work and without question, a watershed text for those seeking to exact sustainable impact in a radically shifting world.
Ramo prophetically labeled our current world order as a â€śRevolutionary Ageâ€ť nearly a year prior to the chain of uprisings termed Arab Spring.Â He calls for a paradigmatic shift in how leaders engage nearly every system within our globally networked, perpetually volatile communities.Â When perceiving the uncertainties of our current station, we are rightfully rapt with a measure of fear.Â Our leaders seem to be caught off guard, from the financial topple of 2008 to the virulent pertinacity of Iraqi insurgents.Â We are failing to rightly discern the day, and our leadership often seems to be misaligned with our world.Â Recycling the causal relationships of a century ago in an effort to predict a revolutionary age leaves esteemed men as varied as Greenspan and Gorbachev looking as befuddled as I did in elementary school, consulting my Magic 8 Ball to figure out if the pig-tailed blonde in the front of the class might want to be my girlfriend.
I was immediately struck by the correlations between Ramoâ€™s depictions of economic and political systems with my own experiences in education.Â He explains, as systems become more complex (a natural biproduct of globalization), they begin to demonstrate a dynamic iterconnectedness that Danish physicist Per Bak characterized as the sand pile effect.Â Initially, grains of sand seem to pile up with perfect order, forming a tiny pyramid, but as the pile grows taller and steeper, inevitable avalanches occur without any measurable predictability.Â The variables affecting stabiltiy multiply exponentially with each grain and its relation to every other grain within the pile.Â Strategist Edward Smith describes the modern sand pile of our networked society imbibed by revolutionary change as a table crowded with set mousetraps upon which ping pong balls are perched.Â Predictability is a myth.Â Do you ever feel like your classroom is full of mousetraps and ping pong balls?Â As you grade tests, are you ever shocked by the outcomes you perceive?
The instability we see across the educational landscape, from the confines of our classrooms to the politics of our representatives, often evokes a measure of panic.Â We want to exercise some level of control.Â We want to believe that if we justâ€¦[fill in the blank with your favorite plan]â€¦we can fix the system.Â In a revolutionary age, this former methodology is what Ramo calls hysteresis.Â It is a reactionary, crisis response model that is constantly late in avoiding avalanches.Â Within such a model, we get caught chasing fast variables like test scores, dropout rates, and campus rankings rather than affecting meaningful impact upon slow variables that can ultimately equip a system to thrive in a revolution.Â In short, we engage the system like architects rather than gardeners.Â An architect wants to adjust the plan to produce an optimal result.Â A gardener understands the unpredictability of the environment, and seeks to cultivate a plot that is as resilient as possible to the variables that might affect it.
Resilience then is the ultimate goal of those looking to harness the erratic energy of a revolutionary age.Â We have more examples than we would like to number in recent days of systems labeled, â€śtoo big to failâ€ť being brought to their knees.Â Their stakeholders and leaders seemingly bewildered by the causal connections leading to their demise.
Educators, and more importantly, our stakeholders (students), could very similarly be left holding a degree and a promise, confounded by a lack of success within our revolutionary age if we do not euip them with the capacity for resilience.
To illustrate this, Ramo draws example from Hizbâ€™allah, one of the most profoundly resilient revolutionary groups in the world.Â When first engaging in revolutionary tactics, Hizbâ€™allah showed proficiency for making cheap, creative weapons and bombs.Â When they used these weapons, Israelâ€™s retaliation was swift and stark.Â An architectâ€™s approach would have simply been to develop better bombs and attack more strategic targets with higher frequency.Â Hizbâ€™allah, though they kept building bombs, responded by rebuilding houses and trading bombed schools for militant madrasas.Â Instead of chasing fast variables, they went deep.Â They could not exert control of Israelâ€™s response, but they could â€śtend their garden.â€ťÂ In doing such, they engrained themselves in the culture and became almost tirelessly resilient through the persistence of their relationships.Â Israeli commanders regularly remark with disdain that Hizbâ€™allah never really wins, they simply attack, run away, and come back in another fashion.Â Ramo honestly acknowldges the groupâ€™s brutal tactics, but their capacity to flourish in a revolution, to harness the incredible energy of unpredictability, commands attention.
If we are in a revolutionary age of infinite global connections, and if our systems are in a critical state of unpredictability, what does that mean for educators?
Can we expect the targets within our curriculum to contain the keys to prepare students for jobs that do not yet exist?Â We must quit trying to improve their scores and attendance in a state of hysteresis.Â We have to go deep.Â We have to get back to the most important aspect influencing resilienceâ€¦the persistence of relationships.Â We have to train educators to get in the dirt againâ€”to tend the soilâ€”because when all hell breaks loose in a childâ€™s world, his/her education will follow if there is not an already established bastion of care with a concerned adult.
Administrators have to honestly assess the quality of the soil in their districts and on their campuses.Â Are we training for control, or are we training for resilience?Â A resilient system can take unpredictabiltiy and harness it like a lightening rod.Â A system in hysteresis, trying to use old predictive patters to navigate in a revolutionary age, simply feels charred with each lightening strike.
What would a resilient education system look like?Â How are you maturing this critical characteristic in your garden?