I am writing and re-writing the section of my book that will argue, in detail, that schools are becoming learning ecosystems, not assembly lines. This is not a metaphor; ecosystems are governed by a set of laws that are very different from those that govern an efficient assembly line. Education should not act like an ecosystem; it must be one.
Ecosystems respond to stress and species adapt or die. Engineered systems don’t adapt until someone makes a design change. This week I talked to a public 8th grade science teacher in California who has 254 students this year. Ten years ago we were horrified that the same teacher had 180 students to teach. Ten years before that the same teacher would have had about 120 students. The population has doubled in the same space, and yet what takes place in that space is 90% the same as it was 20 years ago.
No one has modified the assembly line. The assembly line just keeps cranking along, and we expect the results to be the same when the expected throughput has doubled? Anyone who looks at that and does not recognize the need for fundamental change in the system is either ignorant, frightened beyond action, or just not trying very hard.
There are only two possibilities: we either have to double the resources going into the system (and that is not going to happen), or we have to devise a system that can accomodate the increased population. This is what ecosystems do well; they evolve, adapt, change. They don’t look and act the same as they did when key factors, like population, were very different. A system that imagines a teacher can teach 254 kids in essentially the same way as 120 kids is rotten and is going to die and be replaced, whether we like it or not. That is the nature of ecosystems.