The Assumption of Linearity in Education

I was listening to a educational materials salesman talk about the “curricula” teachers want with the materials he’s selling. He kept going on about at what grade level kids should learn one thing or another, and that to repeat it again at another grade is a bad thing. My stomach was tying itself in knots. But, this is exactly what Standards do, as well. They lay out a sequence of concepts and facts to learn, to which no one will return.

It’s really too bad we see education as a linear process. This linearity appears in a number of terms: learning trajectory, scope and sequence, and so forth. No where in most public and private education does the idea of “recursiveness” appear. If we think of learning as a recursive process, then the idea of returning to concepts over and over again is fundamental characteristic that is of great importance. Think about some conceptual area you feel that you understand well. Now, try to remember how many times you spent learning about that conceptual area. I doubt very much that this was a one shot deal.

In recursive learning, we can revisit topics and go into further detail and extend the contexts of the topics. We can even start making connections to multiple other contexts. In each recursion, we can enrich the learning. This is a really good thing to do, especially if we hand over more control of the learning to the students. Follow their questions and curiosity. And, as teachers, we can suggest directions or connections students haven’t seen.

The linear approach is really a dead-end approach. You go down one alley and stop. Then, you get helicoptered to the next alley. It’s a nowhere approach. The end result is an uninformed and dumbed down citizenry, which is exactly what politicians want. An informed and intelligent citizenry can’t be so easily controlled. So, under the guise of increasing standards of learning and accountability, they are really just trying to dumb us down.


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Linearititis = a psychological disease that involves being stuck in linear thinking and the inability to think recursively.


  • Breaks into a sweat when faced with complex situations, uncertainty, and unpredictable situations;
  • Desperately tries to make everything orderly and predictable;
  • Bursts of anger when life doesn’t follow a predictable path;
  • Underlying fear that life is unpredictable and uncertain.

Causes are multiple in origin, including:

  • the influence of the super-paradigms of positivism, mechanism, and reductionism;
  • linearity of media programming;
  • linearity of news media;
  • linearity in all of schooling;
  • linearity in familial relationships and discourse;
  • linearity of imposed interactions with economy and business;
  • linearity of medical treatment, diagnosis, and research;
  • linearity in just about all contexts.

Effects are multiple:

  • Inability to handle complex situations;
  • Inability to think and work recursively;
  • Extreme difficulty handling uncertainty;
  • Intense desire to solidify and simplify thinking and actions;
  • Intense desire to block out contradictory information;
  • Intense desire to create linear representations and models of complex, nonlinear phenomena.

Other information:

  • Highly contagious;
  • Most likely sectors or contexts to suffer from this disease:
    • Scientific community
    • Medical community
    • Financial sector
    • Corporate sector
    • Education community
    • Psychoanalytic community
    • Political sector
    • Most members of the Complexity Sciences community (ironically!)
    • The media (news and programming)
  • Least likely sectors or contexts to suffer from this disease:
    • Artistic community
    • Poetry community
    • Performing Arts community
    • The more creative and revolutionary science parts of the Scientific community
    • Small portion of the Psychotherapeutic community

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Inquiry, Systems, Relationships, and Learning – and the Loss of Integrity in Science Education

Once upon a not so distant time, I was a “science educator,” and more specifically a science teacher educator. Some of you who may read this may have known me in that role or an even further back role of science teacher. However, for most of my career, I felt somewhat uncomfortable with these roles, but much more so in the new millennium.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, science education research and practice were rather exciting. Many of the past assumptions were being questioned and new directions were being explored. The national science teaching standards of 1996, even though they had some problems, were basically pretty decent. They heavily emphasized teaching through inquiry and trying to manifest a sense of the nature of science. Personally, I liked these two emphases. I’ve never been a fan of conceptual standards, but in the 1996 version, these standards were general enough not to be too restrictive on what could be explored in the classroom.

In the 2013 “Next Generation Science Standards,” inquiry receives only cursory treatment. In fact, what they’ve done is to trivialize inquiry and remove it as the core around which children’s curiosity and engagement can revolve.

Here are a couple of second grade standards:

2-LS2-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to determine if plants need sunlight and water to grow.

2-LS4-1. Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.

These types of simplistic inquiry standards miss the essence of inquiry almost entirely. Inquiry arises from curiosity and one’s engagement and play within a certain context or set of contexts. Teachers might as well just take the lead and tell children what to do step by step. There’s no context for the inquiry, no curiosity, no engagement.

The second of these standards makes “observation” look like some secondary and not very good option for getting information. Observation may be the entirety of inquiry in some fields, like astronomy and some parts of earth sciences. And, there is much more one can do with observation in second grade than just compare the diversity of life. What the hell were they thinking? I guess they weren’t. What about the patterns of form and function? What about such patterns and their appearance across diversity? There is so much young children can explore given the opportunity, but too much knowledge is certainly a problem for a corporate oligarchy.

Teachers need to be creating environments where children can explore and play with materials. They need to be ready to capture the questions and curiosity of children and help them design more engaging and complex (aka “real”) inquiries. Children should leave school everyday with questions and come back the next with more questions and maybe some ideas for further inquiries. Maybe they’ll even come back with evidence to support some idea they’ve had.

I don’t want to do a complete analysis and critique, but there is another confounding point I must discuss. Ecology only receives superficial treatment and a very poor one at that. Ecology appears briefly in kindergarten, grades 2 and 3, middle school, and barely in high school. Ecology should be the central focus.

Although they mention cycles and interdependent relationships, they keep emphasizing linear cause and effect processes. Ecosystems are “complex systems,” and they interact with a number of human social—political—economic systems, which are also complex systems. Complex systems do not have linear cause and effect relationships. They are unpredictable and self-maintaining systems. To discuss these systems as if they were mechanical systems and to dissect them into parts (which they do) is yet another abomination.

And then, in a high school section, what does this standard “sound like” to you?

HS-ESS3-1. Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the availability of natural resources, occurrence of natural hazards, and changes in climate have influenced human activity.

This standard appears under the category of Human Sustainability.

To me, it sounds like a side-step to the issue that current climate change is due to human activity. It reverses the statement to how climate change influenced human activity. What? If one was studying early humankind this may be an interesting question. But, in a contemporary high school, this standard is an abomination to the integrity of science and scientific inquiry.

I think the science education community has lost its integrity. It’s sold its soul to the corporate oligarchy. Look at the standards. Every section throughout deals with technology and engineering. And, they make a concerted effort to align with the highly flawed Common Core (SEE my earlier posts about Common Core: The “Common Core” of Ignorance; More on the Common Core: Who Decides?; & The Common Core Standards – Keeping Our Kids Dumb).

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As ecosystems are stressed and careen towards collapse…
As the world population increases beyond the limits of capacity…
As communities split apart and are consumed by fear and hatred…
As nations come apart at the seams or barely hang on to some semblance of coherence and sanity…
As cultures lose their identities, but are feared and hated anyway…
As families disintegrate and disperse around the globe…
As religions mesmerize the masses and are lost in the quest for power and money…
As corporations plan their take-over, while abusing their workers…
As politicians seem to have lost all sense of what it means to govern…
As tyrannical despots take over positions of power…
As the use of nuclear weapons moves from past memories to distinct possibilities…
As people lose their senses of empathy, compassion, integrity, and generosity…

We approach a POINT…
A point around which we find ourselves spinning.
We may spin out of control towards total self-destruction.
Or… we may spin into new ways of thinking and relating.

So far, schools and their corporate over-lords have been complicit in the movement toward total collapse.
But, if there is to be any hope, schools must step up and take the lead.

Schools must prepare our children to create new ways to live together and within our ecosystems.
Schools must prepare our children to collaborate and think in more complex and creative ways.
Schools must help children learn to survive and thrive as ecosystems collapse or change.
Our children are the generation that will face the brunt of all that humanity has done wrong.

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Intelligence and Context: Epistemological Errors

A recent article in Phys.Org, Apes’ Abilities Misunderstood by Decades of Poor Science (see also: Leavens, Bard, & Hopkins 2017), briefly discusses the biases of scientists that have led to many misconceptions about the intelligence of apes. They make a good point. However, they also seem to fall into to some problematic traps.

Just from the title of their article (Leaven, Bard, & Hopkins, 2107), they get into trouble by saying that the problem and solution is in the way they “measure” intelligence. I’d like to see the dimensions of intelligence that can be measured. We make the same mistake with children in “measuring their intelligence” and “measuring learning.” Trying to measure qualities or psychological processes that cannot be measured are epistemological errors given to us by Descartes, Newton, et al. (By “epistemology,” I am using Gregory Bateson’s notion, where epistemology is the personal construction of knowledge or our personal ways of sense-making. [See Bateson, 1972/2000]) We think we can break down everything into parts and develop mechanical models of everything. And, measuring things that can’t be measured falls into this view.

But, the authors and many other people make another error. They try to use the same context to compare two different animals (i.e., people and apes). So, they take apes into homes and allow them to experience the same things. But, this is problematic. Although it may be interesting, our homes are not the normal context for apes. In fact, such actions are contextually displacing the apes. To really understand their intelligence, we need to observe them in their own context. And, this goes for understanding intelligence in other living things. As more and more research is coming out about intelligence in all sorts of animals, in plants, in fungi, and in bacteria, we need to find ways of understanding these organisms’ intelligence in their native contexts. And, yes, decontextualizing or contextually displacing intelligence is another epistemological error.


Bateson, G. (1972/2000). Steps to an ecology of mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Leavens, D. A., Bard, K. A., & Hopkins, W. D. (2017) The mismeasure of ape social cognition, Animal Cognition, August 4, 1—18. DOI: 10.1007/s10071-017-1119-1 (Accessed at:

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A Brief Look at Warm Data in the Contexts of Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Education

Warm Data is a new term coined by Nora Bateson (2016, 2017a, 2017b) to address issues with current research in the natural and social sciences. Such data can be contrasted with the all too familiar “cold data” of measurement and quantification, which is then subjected to statistical analysis. Warm data also can be contrasted with the cool or luke warm data that is associated with qualitative or naturalistic research. Since qualitative research began to gain in popularity, it came under attack from the quantitative research camp. Qualitative researchers were immediately put on the defensive. In order to justify their methods, qualitative researchers had to justify their methods and their data. Although they changed the terms “reliability” and “validity” to fit their qualitative paradigms, in essence they molded their qualitative data into the formulations validity and reliability. Qualitative researchers objectified their data, kept at arm’s length from “subjects,” and used the same official language to describe their research methods. What may have started off as a major departure from the predominant paradigm quickly became a second cousin with lower status, but similar feel. It had become cool data or luke warm data. Since then, a few people have been trying to break away and return to more of a warm data approach, but they have little support or status in their various research communities. But, Nora Bateson’s introduction of this term within the context of “transcontextual research” (Bateson, 2016, 2017b) provides a new rationale for understanding the complexity of multi-system dynamics and issues.

Warm Data, to me, is about enlivening the information we gather about the world, which is in contrast to objectifying and deadening such information. Warm Data doesn’t exclude the emotionality of the living things being observed or of the observer. Warm Data doesn’t exclude the values and aesthetics of the observed and observer. The connectedness between the observed and the observer is noted and valued. Anthropomorphism is not dismissed and ridiculed, but is seen as a valuable way of seeing the connections. The following article on the aeon website struggles with this issue, but seems to move towards the notion of warm data in its exploration of morality in non-human animals:

”The kindness of beasts: Dogs rescue their friends and elephants care for injured kin – humans have no monopoly on moral behaviour”

Our current problems – from personal health issues to societal and global health and disease issues, from local ecosystems and resources to global ecological and resources, and so forth – are not simple problems with a single solution. They are not linear systems with linear cause and effects. All of these problems involve multiple interacting systems in multiple contexts. They involve people’s lives – their well-being and survival. We cannot rely on the isolated, quantified, and objectified data to find ways of dealing with such complex issues. Such approaches are “clinical” and “clean.” They are not messy or plagued with uncertainty. But, in order to deal with the big problems we face, we must be willing to get our hands dirty and deal with uncertainty and the inability to predict outcomes. We must deal with the messiness of warm data. The systems we are dealing with (human being, social systems, ecosystems, the economy, education, and so forth) are themselves messy, uncertain, and unpredictable. They are “warm” in and of themselves. To break them down and mechanize, clean, and objectify them is to remove them from any sense of reality.

We need to start addressing warm data and transcontextual approaches to research – and to learning – in all levels of schooling. Our children and young adults need to be prepared to deal with the problems they will face. And, the old modes of disconnected and objectified research are going to be problematic.

However, young children already use warm data in their thinking, but we systematically suppress such ways of thinking in schools. What we need to do now is to start supporting such ways of thinking and help children sharpen and refine their natural abilities to use warm data and transcontextual thinking (Bloom, 1990).


Bateson, N. (2016). Small arcs of larger circles: Framing through other patterns. Axminster, England: Triarchy Press.

Bateson, N. (2017a). Warm data. Hacker Noon, May28. Available at:

Bateson, N. (2017b). Warm data: Contextual research and new forms of information. norabateson (posted 5/28/17). Available at:

Bloom, J. W. (1990). Contexts of meaning: Young children’s understanding of biological phenomena. International Journal of Science Education, 12(5), 549-561.

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The Problem with “Tolerance”

The problem with “tolerance” is that it is fundamentally a disconnect. It sets up a negative relationship. The meaning communicated by the statement, “I will tolerate you (or whomever),” is dismissive and condescending. Yet, we act as if “tolerance” is the goal of a civilized society. Children are taught to be tolerant of one another. We set “tolerance” as a goal is schools. In many families, the same sort of sense of tolerance is taught and modeled.

The opposite of tolerance is intolerance. Binaries may be the key to set up all sorts of dynamic systems, this particular binary seems to set up a rather frightening and dysfunctional system of dismissiveness and hatred. There is no real part of this binary that is particularly healthy psychologically or socially.

What our societies should be striving for is “appreciating,” “valuing,” and “respecting” others across various kinds of difference. And, we need to appreciate, value, and respect difference, itself, and variation or diversity. Appreciating, valuing, and respecting set up a different dynamic. This dynamic doesn’t delve deeply into negativity. Here the oppositional binaries are (a) appreciate–underrate (deprecate), (b) value–disregard, and (c) respect–disrespect. Although still negative, that end of these binaries do not quite hold the virulence of intolerance, like that being enacted on the streets of countries around the world.

With these binaries, we don’t even need to like “the other,” but we can appreciate, value, and respect them. I have had many teachers and professors whom I didn’t like, but I did appreciate what they taught me and the effort they put into teaching me, even if they did a poor job of it. I may not agree with the beliefs of someone from another culture, but I can appreciate that person and value their belief system. And, I can respect that person for whomever they are.

Appreciating, valuing, and respecting are the three ways of developing and maintaining relationships that we should be teaching in schools around the world. These ways of relating are going to become increasing important as the pressures of population growth and global warming put people into very tough situations. We will need to cooperate and collaborate, not fight with and kill one another. But, these also are the skills necessary to succeed in the the workplace and in democratic societies.

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NPR & Diarrhea “News”

I listen to NPR, because I can tune it in easily on my car radio. And, I seem to be forever hopeful that it will surprise me with good news coverage and analysis. But, I am almost always disappointed.

Today, I was listening to a two- or three-minute story on the opinions of Wisconsin voters towards Trump and Charlottesville. They spent just about the entire time interviewing these voters. And, it was getting very upsetting. If diarrhea could talk, that is what I was hearing. I really hate these kinds of “diarrhea news” bits. But, what is even worse, is that they just left it. No final analysis. No commentary. No correction of errors.

The people kept talking about freedom of speech. But, hate speech is NOT protected speech. Speech that incites violence is NOT protected speech. And, the “attack of the alt-left” was NOT an attack. Only the Nazis had weapons. The local community, which was labeled alt-left, locked arms with one another to show their unity is opposition to hate. There was no alt-left. There was no other side attacking. But, NPR once again showed their complete stupidity, ignorance, and racist bigotry in just letting the diarrhea news misconstrue one of the most important issues facing our country right now. NPR and other media outlets are responsible for propagating misinformation, for propagating bigotry, for propagating hatred. They desperately need to clean up their act and start behaving like a real new organization.

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Schools, Prisons, and Workplaces

(original image post by David Wolfe)

I re-posted this on Facebook a year ago, but it needs to be reposted.

We also can add a third column: most corporate workplaces.

There are exceptions to schools and workplaces, but the tendency is towards a prison model. When schools and workplaces deviate from this model, the transformation is dramatic. Schools and businesses that operate in ways that share control among all participants and value the principles of democracy, the results in participant engagement, ownership, confidence, creativity, etc., and in productivity is overwhelming. When schools and businesses change to participant ownership, it also increases the participants positive values towards difference and diversity.

So, while we may like to blame specific people and groups for the current eruptions of bigotry, such bigotry is encouraged and propagated throughout many contexts in this society. We have to re-evaluate and change all of these contexts.

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State of the World & Education

I’ve been thinking about how much I’d love to write about how children learn and make sense of the world, how teachers can tap into exciting ways of engaging children in their sense making processes, how teachers can transform classrooms and schools into communities of knowledge producers, artists, writers, and scientists. I’d love to write about metapatterns and pattern thinking, about transcontextual systems thinking, and about how teachers and children can collaborate in changing the world.

But, then the reality of our current social contexts of hate and fear of, aggression and violence towards, and disregard and contempt for anyone or anything that is different have taken over our collective consciousness. We are seeing some of the most depraved and hideous qualities of humanity. In fact, these are the most depraved and hideous qualities of all life forms. No other life form hates. No other life form hates, even though they may experience fear. Aggression and violence among other species is not viewed as beneficial or as something to engage in on a regular basis. Aggression and violence is risky and only utilized in the direst of circumstances. And, no other life form disregards or has contempt for other life forms. We’re the sole owners of these destructive thoughts and actions.

In other species, it doesn’t usually benefit the “group” (i.e., the species) to risk too many deaths and injuries. Such actions also require too much energy. In ecosystems, energy is the monetary unit. A predator does not go around killing every possible prey, only the one it needs for food at that moment. And, if chasing down and trying to kill its prey turns out to be too risky (i.e., the prey poses a risk by fighting back too vigorously) or too strong and fast, the predator will abandon the attempt.

People are often afraid of all kinds of animals that they encounter, such as insects, spiders, mice, snakes, and even dogs. We seem to specialize in fear, even when things or situations are not particularly threatening. On a field study to a stream with my university students, a few young women came running up to me to come look at something they had found. It was a larger spider stuck on a rock surrounded by turbulent water. This was not a particularly good predicament for the spider. So, I crouched down and put out my hand at the level of the rock. After the spider crawled onto my hand, I stood up. At that moment, a young man ran away screaming, while everyone else kept asking me why I wasn’t afraid of being bitten. I explained that I posed no threat to the spider and, in fact, just saved its life. I’ve encountered all kinds of animals in the wild, including snakes, tarantulas, lizards, sharks, and insects of all kinds, and I’ve never had any problems. However, one lizard was frightened and thought that he could bite my hand and get away. Unfortunately, for him, I could hardly feel his bite, but he was pretty cute trying. I’ve also saved the life of a couple of snakes on roads. They didn’t care for being picked up, but tried their first line of defense of pooping and peeing on me. It wasn’t pleasant for me, but they did get into the safety of the woods.

So, here we are infiltrated by fear and hatred of “the other” – of anyone who is different racially, religiously, and culturally. Diversity is loathed. Yet, in the biological world, diversity is essential. Without genetic diversity, species do no survive or evolve. Without a diversity of organisms in ecosystems, ecosystems will collapse. Diversity is critical to the functioning of all kinds of living systems, including social systems. Although some cultures survived over centuries without contact with other cultures, most had contact. Trade and the exchange of information enriched the lives of the people in different cultures. As nations developed, many developed guiding principles that valued diversity. Although the U.S. Constitution expressed values in diversity, these values were originally conceived of as concerning only white men. But, as we grew, we expanded this view to include women, Native Americans, African Americans, and many other racial and cultural groups. But, now we have elected a government of neo-Nazis that do not value diversity of any kind, and only value the propagation of fear and hatred.

Many good articles have been recently written that discuss how we have come to this point. I don’t want to go over this here. I started this post by posing a dilemma about wanting to write about educational ideas, but feeling overwhelmed by the significance of our current state of ugly affairs. But, I don’t think it is an either/or situation. I think we need to address education more than ever right now. Educational action may not have an immediate effect, but it can have a huge effect down the road. In fact, we are seeing now what has happened as a result of eroding quality of education. This erosion has little to do with the quality of teachers. However, this erosion has a lot to do with the corporate and political influence over education. The push for strict standards, high stakes testing, accountability, teacher proof curriculums, and so forth has been a direct assault on what should be among the most important goals of education. We should be helping children understand and appreciate diversity of all kinds. We should be helping children learn how to work together in communities through negotiation and the sharing of control in democratic classroom communities. We should be helping children work through their own psychological and social issues in ways that lead to healthy senses of self-efficacy and social awareness. We should be helping children to develop deep, meaningful, and complex understandings of the multiplicity of systems that are affecting their lives. But, instead we have taught them how to tune out; how to jump through hoops to get through school; how to be self-indulgent. We’ve neglected the personal and social growth and development of our children. And, now we are seeing the disintegration of the very fabric of our society.

Children are not born fearing and hating others. They are born desiring relationships. They spend their initial years learning about the relationships within which they live. The fear and hatred in families is contagious. In some schools, the fear and hatred is inflamed, or just not addressed. Schools could offer a counter measure against home life and friends. And, these counter measures are what we should be talking about and implementing.

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