Monday, June 3, 2013

Quantum Shift in Professional Development


The paradigm shift into quantum timespacematter/ing drives authentic professional development.  This shift requires:
  • Willingness to risk, to fail, & to push past comfortable formulas,
  • Tolerance for indeterminacy; deliberate acceptance of multiples,
  • Determination to move (quantum’s wave) and to build (quantum’s particle) simultaneously, even in the experience of multiplicity, and
  • Revolution against reliance on high-stakes testing, similar accountability models, & concurrent curricula because they are premised on objective reality, the old and dead paradigm.

When we ask for and teach from the formulaic models and the knowledge base of that dominant paradigm, we deny the calling of our profession and perpetuate the endangered condition of our children, civilization, and the environment.

I realize that this opening paragraph risks making me appear to be radical, if not crazed; but I’m really just restating scientific insight that’s about a hundred years old.  Google “quantum physics.”  Also in philosophy, psychology, and theology, similar notions can be traced much further back.  Check out the heritage of phenomenology and gnosis.  The tone even comes through a 2013 commencement speech:
So here’s the thing about changing the world. It turns out that’s not even the question, because you don’t have a choice. You are going to change the world, because that is actually what the world is. You do not pass through this life; it passes through you. Joss Whedon at Wesleyan

While I’m not yet a hundred years old, for almost that long an inarticulate knowing within me has been reaching for the quantum paradigm.  As a committed professional, I could seldom stomach what was presented as “professional” development.  After a decade or so of participating in star-on-the-stage “professional” conferences, the failure of integrity became too great.  I had to run for my life because:
Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.  Dostoyevsky in Brothers Karamazov

Most of us wish for an ordered universe with clear preformulated objectives, neatly scaffolded mastery learning, and the safety of possessing bound knowledge.  For example, look at the appeal of 8 Steps to Great Digital Storytelling.  In my judgment, this resource offers much of value, and it also represents the old dominant paradigm in key features:  the “great” destination, step-by-step mapping, and “readily-available source materials.”  While I hope to utilize this resource, I’ll engage it in a quantum manner rather than from the formulaic, linear, and presumptive mode.

For example, consider the assertion in Step 1: “All stories begin with an idea.” 
From twenty-plus years of experience in storytelling, I know many stories come from experience, perhaps in some transaction with words, but to isolate and prioritize the cognitive denies the opportunities in quantum.   Generative stories plumb dialectically across image and word; they don’t come from script first.  I also believe that digital stories with strongest voice are not made with “readily available source materials” but are crafted artistically and organically with more adherence to situated learning than to Google’s warehouse.  The formulaic elements evident both in the assertion and in the lock-step process sound like head dominance and hand subordination.  Quantum PD features, instead, a dynamic process-product allowing for pathways and adaptations not known in advance.

At least since Dewey, educators know to condemn the funnel-in design; and yet most curricula, testing, and PD live and die in that paradigm more than any other.  When we fail to see that, we are lying to ourselves and risk ceasing to love.

Adaptive life doesn’t deny formula but it won’t be contained by it.  William Sennett’s study of The Craftsman shows how even disciplines distinguished by apprenticeship know that “fertility incorporated incompleteness and ambiguity” (p. 204).  Sennett illustrates with Christopher Wren’s proposal for rebuilding London after the great fire.  Wren imagined rather than redid what was.  The craftsman’s imagination honors the link between hand and head.

Quantum Professional Development (QPD) shifts our attitude on making mistakes opening the way to taking risks, living in multiplicity, and not feeling so bad about it.
The philosopher Daniel Dennett offers supportive guidance:
We philosophers specialize in all the ways there are of getting things so mixed up, so deeply wrong, that nobody is even sure what the right questions are, let alone the answers. . . Try to acquire the weird practice of savoring your mistakes, delighting in uncovering the strange quirks that led you astray. Then, once you have sucked out all the goodness to be gained from having made them, you can cheerfully set them behind you, and go on to the next big opportunity. But that is not enough: you should actively seek out opportunities to make grand mistakes, just so you can then recover from them.

Sennett also elaborates the necessity and value of making mistakes and embracing them for their difficult gold: “Put simply, it is by fixing things that we often get to understand how they work” (page 199).  On the next page, he continues, “we can tolerate the frustration because we are now also curious; the possibility of making a dynamic repair will stimulate, and the multipurpose tool will serve as curiosity’s instrument.”

While QPD brings excitement, it’s also alien and scary.  In trying to do collaborative PD in the quantum paradigm, I get troubled about not being able to say just what we’re going to do.  While I know we have to get into it in order to feel the way, the old voices say “poor leadership.”  Sennett tells how craftsmen build understanding out of working with the matter, and we haven’t had our hands on quantum PD long enough to articulate the key principles. 

The cognitive-dominant paradigm provides the comfort of making a map, and it hushes the whispers saying the world’s no longer flat like that.  Instead, QPD provides an experience for dwelling in error long enough to reach understanding. 
Sennett says, “In making music we certainly prepare yet cannot recoil when our hand does not then fit its aim or purpose; to correct, we have to be willing—more, to desire—to dwell in error a bit longer in order to understand fully what was wrong about the initial preparation,” (p. 161).

Another characteristic of QPD extends from the term timespacemattering. For example, I think Maker Faire and Connected Learning are on the right track in terms of providing a focus on matter; that’s vital to QPD.   At the same time, I feel it very important to carry consciousness related to the quality of time and the inseparable overlapping with the other complements in timespacemattering.  Consider the contested claim that achieving a “great” level takes 10,000 hours.  I wonder if a day’s dabbling in a Maker event could lead someone to think that’s all there is, mistaking false gold for the real thing.  QPD deals with the challenge of composing not answers, but “tasters” that tantalize a person enough to drive the investment that strives for and eventually develops feel for the sublime.

I’m focusing on developing these tasters and want to know:
How do we engage the capacity of timespacemattering so that a “taste” of joy and quality (traditionally associated with 10K hours) resonates within a 1-5 min video production?

Another pressing question for me concerns the dynamic locus of authority.  How do we contain the tension around the source of authority?  How do we learn to allow for a dynamic flow?  Situated, local knowing affirms personal authority; building expertise in complex multiplicity depends on submitting to being coached, to accepting external authority.  I’m encouraged with the nature of PLN that perhaps allows us to carry a dynamic of respectful tension and without star worship/envy, but I think we need a ballast to hold the balance. 

Pursuing that question deserves a separate space.  I want to explore how commitment to a physical discipline hones the feel of dynamic knowing.  Riding dressage gives me the rebalancing for living in multiples, including the multiple sources of authority.

Quantum PD sounds overwhelming, but it’s better than living in a lie.  A bit of comfort comes from Rilke’s challenge about one who wrestles with the angel(ic):
          “This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,/
           by constantly greater beings.”

                  (Robert Bly’s Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke)