Jacob J. Walker's Blog

Scholarly Thoughts, Research, and Journalism for Informal Peer Review

Archive for the ‘A to Z Framework of Formal Education Systems’ Category

How to Organize a Large Personal Library

without comments

The Problem:

My wife got me a t-shirt that says “I got 99 problems, but my books ain’t one”, and while there is some debate on whether that is true or not…  one thing that has been a problem is the organization of my books.   With around 1,000 books in our house, I had struggled for years to find a paradigm to use to organize them, such that I could quickly get a book on a particular topic when I wanted it.

Like Aristotle, my first thought was to have a philosophy of ontology, such that everything would have a clear hierarchical category.   And in fact, I developed the A to Z Framework for Formal Education Systems based upon my attempt to have a clear method of categorization of my books related to education (which now are predominant in my library).  But, as prototype theory is showing, classic views of ontology are psychologically false.  And even if hierarchical categorization of entities didn’t have innate problems, there would still be a problem with organizing books, because no book only covers one topic.  So, every manner I attempted to layout my books, whether one dimensionally or even two dimensionally on my bookshelf, just didn’t work.

To first try and solve this problem, I read several webpages about  organizing personal libraries, and I also looked at what library science had developed, including the categorization of the Dewey Decimal System, the Library of Congress, and other systems.  All of them had the same inherent issues that I had discovered, and were pragmatically worse for my personal use, than my classification system.

The Solution:

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Jacob Walker

October 27th, 2013 at 9:19 am

Overview of the A to Z Mapping of Formal Education Systems

without comments

This PowerPoint file about the A to Z Mapping of Formal Education Systems shows a visual representation of how the A to Z model works overall, and includes some animations that are designed to help demonstrate components of the model.

Written by Jacob Walker

June 22nd, 2013 at 7:42 am

B is for Beliefs

without comments

As was discussed,  the aim is actually a belief.  There are of course, many other beliefs that are critical for effective education system design.  Our other individual and collective beliefs can either work towards our aim, or they can work against it.   And while, to a degree, our beliefs will never work perfectly towards our aim, it is possible to continue to have improvement in how they work towards our goal.  And to better optimize that process, an understanding of beliefs can help dramatically.  This will require dipping into philosophy, which can get subtle and deep.  But without an examination of the foundation of our beliefs, we are likely to not have them work as best as possible.  Since I am generally a pragmatist, I will try to keep my discussion of philosophy relevant to education system design.

First, in general, there are three major categories of beliefs, which can be summed up in the words of philosopher and theologian, Mark Schindler, as “the true, the good, and the beautiful,” which echos Plato’s thoughts of the areas we should work towards.   In philosophy, the study of these are: epistemology for finding the true, ethics for finding the good, and aesthetics for finding the beautiful.

For each of these areas, there are core beliefs and derived beliefs.  For the purposes of understanding these here, I will describe a core belief as being a belief that is either considered unprovable, self-evident, or simply something that the believer does not wish to prove.  Derived beliefs are those that come forth from the core beliefs.  (I almost would say “logically” come forth, but one must believe in logic as a core belief to agree that we must logically build from our postulated ideas.)

These core beliefs must come first, whether we realize it or not. This is why math, science, and philosophy all have core beliefs, that form the various mental models that are derived from those disciplines.  In the case of math, science, and philosophy, these core beliefs are chosen very carefully, as they dramatically change each of those disciplines, and in fact, the branches of math and philosophy occur because of different core beliefs being considered. Thus too it is critical to contemplate carefully the core beliefs that will form the mental models of the education system you are designing.

But, the general populous has not necessarily thought deeply about their core beliefs, but their core beliefs are still often deeply held, and may be difficult to change, sometimes despite logical evidence to the contrary.  This makes it highly improbable that a large group of people hold all the same core beliefs, as the probability of consensus goes down in at least an exponential manner as group size increases. This is an important constraint that should be recognized by the education system designer.  But, it is not an impossible constraint to overcome.  Work can be done to bring everyone closer to being on the “same page”, or to design an organization that attracts people with similar core beliefs.  Further, sometimes different core beliefs can still lead to similar beliefs, an atheist and a Christian may both be able to agree that they should love their enemies, even if they come to the conclusion for different reasons.

From this point on, there are some core beliefs, or at least mental models, that will guide the rest of the A to Z framework.  I do not believe that these beliefs and models are necessarily controversial, but I’d rather be explicit about them at this point for purposes of working towards intellectual transparency.  Most of these beliefs have already been evident:

This framework first uses a systems perspective.  Each of the A to Z are describing some part of an education system.  It attempts to do this in the broadest sense of the phrase “educational system”, but at the same time, following a pragmatic perspective and educator’s belief in relevancy and understandability, I will try to generally reference an example of a U.S. public school system, with Twin Rivers Unified School District being one that I’m directly involved with, although currently mostly from the adult education perspective.  I will also use examples of a family, and sometimes mass media, as these are other education systems we are involved with, even if we don’t generally consider them education systems.

A belief in logic and accuracy is fundamental to the creation of this framework.  But often logic in social systems is not binary, nor works in perfect syllogisms of “all” or “none”, and thus systems of statistics and probability must be used.  Although, I will keep these to a minimum because it has been my experience that statistics can lose people, and that there subtle nature means that multiple true statements can be said that often seem to disagree on the surface.  So, writing this for a more general audience, I will try to follow the aesthetic principle of simplicity which is often considered elegant.

Just as in the design of an education system, the beliefs I have laid out will at times conflict.  The desire for accuracy can conflict with simplicity.  But if I keep the desire to help readers better understand education system design, I will likely be successful, at least for some readers.  But, I am sure it will not satisfy all readers, and that is a derived belief on my part, based upon evidence, which suggests that no matter how well we optimize any education system, there will be inherent non-perfection.  But we can work towards the perfection, and get closer, the more we recognize our fallibility.

It is because of this last belief of mine in continual improvement, based upon an optimism that things can be improved, I will continue to revise these entries, based upon feedback, and you can see their revisions.

So from these founding beliefs, let us go to C for Content.


Written by Jacob Walker

August 7th, 2012 at 8:12 pm

A is for Aim

without comments

If you don’t know where your going, you’ll probably end up someplace else instead.“- Laurence J. Peter [zotpressInText nickname="EffectiveEducation" item="6T6UIAD7" pages="125"]

The start of a system that is being designed is to know what you want that system to do.  General System Theory also has the aim, goal, or mission of a system as the primary property of that system.  This is why many school accrediting organizations have the mission of the school as the first criteria, and why businesses and organizations have adopted the standard that the mission statement must be one of the first things created. [zotpressInText nickname="EffectiveEducation" item="QWW5Q7BD"]

The Aim of a school is actually a belief, and thus also fits under B for Belief, in the A to Z framework.  And as will be discussed more thoroughly under that section, the Aim and Beliefs of a school can not purely be based upon evidence, as the is-ought problem that Hume discovered [zotpressInText nickname="EffectiveEducation" item="B6KT6F8H" pages="469"] is not resolvable, without having some postulated beliefs.

One of the challenges education systems have is that different systems have different (and sometimes opposing) aims, with a general lack of agreement about the purpose of education  [zotpressInText nickname="EffectiveEducation" item="2MVZ9Q3R"]. In fact, it often appears that different participants within the same system have different or opposing aims.  (And, psychologically it can be argued that even within an individual person, that each of us are inconsistent in our aim and beliefs throughout our lives, depending upon circumstances.) This makes it much more difficult for a system have a congruent method of reaching a singular or even set of goals.

So is there no hope for the Aim to have any meaning?  As psychological studies are bearing out, the stating of goals do in fact help us have a better chance of reaching them, and thus defining an Aim for the education can make a difference, as long as the other components of the system work towards that aim.  Or as a motivational message I once read said: “Aim for the sun, you may not reach it, but you will fly higher than if you never aimed at all.”

So what should the aim of education be?  How should a mission statement be written?  Francis Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts, and who Peter Drucker once hailed as the greatest leader in the United States, believes that mission statements should be short, powerful, and compelling, such that they can easily be remembered.  [zotpressInText nickname="EffectiveEducation" item="BFXHDRTN"]

The Effective Education Projects have an overarching aim “To Empower Humanity, such that We All may Survive and Thrive.”  Each individual project has its own contextualized aim to help further that major goal.  Twin Rivers has also set for itself a lofty goal to “Inspire Each Student to Extraordinary Achievement Each Day.”

Both of these goals fit Francis Hesselbein’s edict, but they are different in understanding how to measure them.  The Twin Rivers mission statement is written in a way similar to the concept of a limit in calculus, in that it is clearly something that all participants in the school district can strive for each day, and that with work, the school district can come closer and closer to that goal, but it is not one that will likely be reached where all participants will  inspire all students to extraordinary achievement all days.  The Effective Education mission is potentially more achievable, although it hinges on what “thriving” means, and how often this should occur.

This brings up a critical point, that it takes looking deeper at a mission to be able to achieve the aim.  In the case of Twin Rivers, it is important for participants to think about what “extraordinary achievement” means, and for the Effective Education Projects, the words “empower” and “thrive” need deeper definition.  To be able to do this, the beliefs of the organization need to be known.

So next we will look at B for Beliefs.

Read the full entry to include the Works Cited

Written by Jacob Walker

July 16th, 2012 at 6:33 am

A to Z of Education System Design

without comments

Think about every problem, every challenge, we face. The solution to each starts with education.” – George H. W. Bush [zotpressInText nickname="EffectiveEducation" item="JUTK8B3V"]

Do you want to improve the world?  Do you want to improve education?  Want to start your own school?  I do.

I have been working towards this goal for at least 10 years now, through teaching, curriculum creation, and doing administrative roles with the Twin Rivers Unified School District and through active outside learning, study, and thought. That is why I have started the Effective Education Projects, which include a myriad of individual projects that are working to build a better world. But I’m just beginning, and it seems it has taken me 10 years to get to the beginning.

If you are similar to me in wanting to change education (or simply help people learn things that can help humanity), then I will use the term  “education system designer” or simply “designer” to refer to you.  I use this term “designer” to mean that you have the ability to design (within constraints) the methods in which you share information with others and you have influence over how others may do this as well.  This empowerment that you have, that you may not realize, is important, and requires the ability to look at the bigger picture. You may be a teacher, an administrator, a student, a parent, a business person, an actor, a documentary producer, an author, and/or acting within another role.

What I will be presenting in 26 postings, and ultimately in a book based upon these postings, are not inherently the answers to the questions about how to make education more effective. It is a way of making a map of an education system, such as a school, so that the school can better understand itself, and see where it may be missing components, or not have them as congruent as they could be.  This mapping contains what I believe are the key mental models needed to ask the right questions.  Along the way, I will also be sharing a little about what questions and answers I have found.  And then future postings/books will detail those more.

These 26 concepts, corresponding to each letter of the English alphabet, will cover 4 major areas:

  • A to G contains the overall components of teaching, learning, and improvement
  • H through M, are the stages an education system has with students (and in fact with all participants)
  • N through W, are 9 ways of viewing components of any organization, with a focus on looking at them in education
  • X, Y, and Z are the “dimensions” of the map, each being a  continuum of how to look at a system from different levels.

In system theory, it is said that it is somewhat arbitrary about how we define the boundaries between components (sub-systems) and how components are categorized.  Thus, there are many ways that many philosophers and authors have defined things, and each of their frameworks are not necessarily more or less accurate than the others*.  (And it seems that every educational author, now including me, tries to make their own model!)  And thus, I do not claim that what I have defined as the A to Z of Education is the only way to understand or map the design of education systems and schools.

And in some ways the components of A to Z of Education are contrived to match with the English alphabet, and the arbitrary order that the English alphabet has been defined to be in.  But, building meaning is important, and using the alphabet as a mnemonic device is a benefit, and the letters were able to fit the ideas sufficiently well.

Further, as already stated, the A to Z, on their own, do not answer questions about how to make effective education systems.  In fact, the A to Z  will be similar to the alphabet.  It will be the components that can be put together to have a system, similar to how letters are put together to have written words in a language.  And in fact, the components of the A to Z can make ineffective education as well as effective education, and it can even make different systems that teach opposite lessons.But, the components are always there, even if they are being performed poorly, or not leading to the results the education designer wants.  By having a framework to use as a map, the components can be seen more clearly, which then can lead to improvement in effectiveness.

The A to Z are mostly generalized, thus “T” will not be for “Teacher”, and “S” will not be for “Student”, but instead you will find “P” for “Participant”,  as in reality participants take on different roles, and good teachers learn from students, and students may teach other students as well (and will probably be better off for it!).  Further, in the broad scheme, our mass media is as much an education system, as our schools are, and the A to Z should fit that type of paradigm and other education systems that are not commonly recognized as education systems, as much as it can fit a traditional “brick and mortar” school. (Because of this, I will generally use the term “education system” instead of “school”, but if it makes you feel more comfortable, you can substitute the word “school” for that phrase when you read it.)

So, you may ask: if there are other frameworks that have accuracy, and if the A to Z framework doesn’t even guarantee that an effective system can be created, why should you care about reading this, and why am I writing this?  I believe this is a valid question, as science grows from open-minded skepticism.  And the answer to this question is important to understand: The deeper we understand the principles and components of a system, the more likely we are to be able to put those components  together in such a way that it can produce more effective education for a better humanity.  This A to Z framework has sharpened my mind’s thoughts about education, and I hope it will help your mind to have a place to put concepts and ideas, to help with whatever forays you have with educational design.

Some of these components may seem obvious, but as Paul Simon has said “Why deny the obvious?” The knowledge of our world has improved because those things that seemed obvious, such as the thought that the world was only made up of earth, water, fire, and wind, have been more deeply explored and understood.    Similarly, by understanding the components of education systems, the foundation is constructed to be able to build a fuller system.

The A to Z framework on its own is descriptive, and not directly prescriptive.  In philosophy it would be said, that it is not normative, nor attempts to describe what ought to be done.  And my aim is to have this writing be helpful to those who may have different beliefs than I do, and thus we may create entirely different systems of education than I am working on creating.

But, for purposes of explaining the A to Z, it is important to give examples along the way, and these examples will be more normative from my personal perspective.   There are two education systems that I have actively been involved with, that I will use as examples: Twin Rivers Unified School District and the Effective Education Projects.

They are in very different stages of existence.  Twin Rivers Unified School District was formed in 2008 as the merger of several school districts in the northern Sacramento region of California.  It has had a bumpy road, to say the least.  While individual staff at its different schools have been recognized at the state and national level for doing extraordinary things, the district has also been the focus of two grand jury investigations, has many lawsuits it is dealing with, is financially troubled due to major state budget cuts, and from many news reports, it is clear that it has systemic problems.   Because of these events, there have been several changes in leadership, including the retirement of the past superintendent, the deputy superintendent being placed on administrative leave, and in recent elections, most of the school board makeup changed.   This offers a potential opportunity to have a systemic redesign that could change a lot of things, but there is equal or greater chance that things will not change.  I use it as a personal example, because I hope the ideas presented here, can help all participants have more tools to work towards improvement.

The Effective Education Projects can not be seen as a success either.  Not because they have failed, but because for the most part they have not yet started.   They have been ideas in my head, which has included a lot of contribution of ideas from others.  I am working to hopefully learn from the mistakes other systems have made, and be able to avoid those, and make novel mistakes instead :-).  And even from these new mistakes (whatever they will be), I believe that with good system design, it is possible to use them for improvement.   One of the key features that I think can help the Effective Education Projects, is by having a relevant and accurate theoretical framework, which I believe the “A to Z” is, it will increase the overall chance of success for each project.

So my next posting will start with: A for Aim…

Read the full entry to include the Works Cited

Written by Jacob Walker

July 15th, 2012 at 9:58 am