The parameters of a system determine what problems get identified, how they are diagnosed and what solutions are provided. A fast food system cannot recognize a need for winter coats or solve a clothing problem with anything on it's menu. A fast food system does recognize a need for food in a hurry and responds with more fast food. It can solve problems to get more feed to the cattle it slaughters to create the burgers on the menu. It cannot solve problems that require cutbacks in cattle breeding. System parameters call for more of the same thing to get its job done.
What are the parameters of a typical education system?
An education system delivers seats, classrooms and school buildings and solves apparent problems with those alternatives. It will diagnose familiar problems as a lack of seats, classrooms or buildings and solve them swiftly. The system may also deliver additional course offerings, subjects to study and course materials. It will automatically solve problems with those responses and assume more courses are what's required. The system will also provide objective measures of task completion and content retention for measuring progress, advancing students to the next grade level and rewarding teachers. Some of these systems may also provide counselors, social workers and staff meetings to resolve troublesome issues. All these systems operate within their parameters when they seek additional funds through property tax increases or bond issues. The system will then diagnose every problem that erupts within these system parameters.
What's wrong with relying on system parameters?
School systems act incapable of solving problems like student dropout rates or new teacher burnout rates. Those problems cannot be solved with additional seats, tests, courses, counseling or budget increases. The problems exist outside the confines of system parameters. The problems appear impossible to solve and must be "swept under the rug". Otherwise the problems get diagnosed as a need for the solutions the system does deliver. The system will try to fix the problem with additional courses, testing, counseling or funding.
Why don't school systems revise their parameters to become more responsive and effective?
A system cannot revise it's own parameters. It takes something or someone outside the system. We cannot lift a table we are standing on top of, until we get off the table and stand on different ground. We stand on and stand for the system parameters when we are functioning inside a system. We do what the system does and cannot do otherwise without causing a system malfunction. We join in it's purposes, perceptions and premises to fit in, get our job done and meet others expectations.
Why don't systems seek outsiders who are standing on different ground to revise their parameters?
System parameters justify their own existence, make themselves right and refute contrary premises. Proponents of the parameters say things like:
- It won't work with our unique situation -- it has not been invented here.
- It's been tried before and fails to produce lasting change in our kind of system.
- It's not our responsibility to be concerned with that -- it's none of our business.
- It's not something we can afford under our current financial constraints -- it's too costly.
Usually by a crisis where the system cannot reboot itself after a high profile failure. The parameters are exposed by the system crash to be dysfunctional, toxic or ill-conceived. People lose faith in the system. The spell is broken and it's suddenly obvious what has been previously assumed without question. The chronic misdiagnoses, neglected problems and obsessive solutions are put into a new light. There is nothing to stand on or for until new ground is established with revised system parameters.