industrial age institutions will continue to expand blindly, unaware of their part in a larger whole or of the consequences of their growth. Presence, Peter Senge
Peter Senge, who speaks and writes about systems change (The Fifth Discipline: School That Learn 2000), explores further the role of learning in one of his books, Presence. An Exploration of Profound Change in People, Organizations, and Society (also by O. Scharmer, J. Jarworski, and B. Flowers.) In the introduction he writes:
When any of us acts in a state of fear or anxiety, our actions are likely to revert to what is most habitual: our most instinctual behaviors dominate, ultimately reducing us to the “fight-or-flight” programming of the reptilian brain stem. Collective actions are no different. Even as conditions in the world change dramatically, most businesses, governments, schools, and other large organizations continue to take the same kinds of institutional actions that they always have. This does not mean that no learning occurs. But it is a limited type of learning: learning how best to react to circumstances we see ourselves as having had no hand in creating.
So often our institutions want to do more of the same. We find ourselves trying to react to, find solutions to, problems that are beyond the scope of what we’ve always done. Instead, we need to find ways to do things differently.
In church, it might be trying to meet the needs of parishioners who can’t make Sunday morning worship. Our speaker talked of focusing on Weekly Average Touches rather than Daily Sunday attendance. He talked of early morning discussion groups, evening speakers, online workshops, and even a Saturday morning Farmers Market held at the church.
In schools, this means meeting individuals’ needs where they are, focusing on deeper thinking, and integrating disciplines across the curriculum to create moments of authentic learning. It means thinking holistically instead of in parts. For both church and school, we must let go of our “past-driven mentality.”
All learning integrates thinking and doing. All learning is about how we interact in the world and the types of capacities that develop from our interactions. As long as our thinking is governed by industrial, “machine age” metaphors such as control, predictability, and “faster is better,” we will continue to re-create institutions as we have, despite their increasing disharmony with the larger world.
Senge says he and the other authors began to see “presence” as “deep listening, of being open beyond one’s preconceptions and historical ways of making sense.We came to see the importance of letting go of old identities and the need to control…”
Are we open to these shifts? Are we prepared to let go of preconceived ideas?
The end of the introduction closes in this way:
In the end, we concluded that understanding presence and the possibilities of larger fields for change can come only from many perspectivesâ€”from the emerging science of living systems, from the creative arts, from profound organizational change experiencesâ€”and from directly understanding the generative capacities of nature.
Virtually all indigenous or native cultures have regarded nature or universe or Mother Earth as the ultimate teacher. At few times in history has there been a greater need to rediscover this teacher.
I’ve simplified his book, but the connections I made between our struggle to shift both education and church, the importance of community in both, and our need to think using the Theory of the U (more on that later) have me wondering.
How have you tried to meet the needs of your students in new and different ways? How have you found creative ways to help students learn?
Susan Carter Morgan
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