All posts filed under: Systems Thinking

The Third Key: Systems Thinking

“The idea is to pay attention to the living world as if it were a spider’s web: when you touch one part, the whole web responds.”- Robin Wall Kimmerer, Interviewed by The Sun Magazine While many of us understand intellectually that we are, of course, part of an interconnected web, the dominant approach to teaching and learning focuses on objectifying and separating out parts and individuals in the ongoing effort to find what is core or essential. “Whereas the scientific method (summarised by Popper as the three Rs: reduction, repeatability and refutation) increases our knowledge and understanding by breaking things down into their constituent parts and exploring the properties of these parts, systems thinking explores the properties which exist once the parts have been combined into a whole.” From ReallyLearning.com, Briefing Paper One: Systems thinking The ReallyLearning.com article is an excellent introduction to systems thinking. As indicated by the quote, systems thinking provides something a purely analytical approach cannot: it allows us to discover the properties that arise from the relationship between the parts of …

The promise – and problem – of systems thinking.

As a former biology teacher, I understand that life is an “interconnected web.” Why, I taught my students about the food chain and the water cycle and the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Of course, I understood even at the time that these were simplistic and incomplete models. What I didn’t recognize was that I was trying to teach complexity with the wrong tool. The primary tool we use as educators is analysis (read more in my previous post “Is our educational system teaching us to objectify the world“). But, like a beam of light in a darkened room, analysis can only reveal a few isolated elements at a time, while failing to show us the big picture. Like a beam of light in a darkened room, analysis can only reveal a few isolated elements at a time, while failing to show us the big picture. The need to understand the big picture of systems dynamics is great. Healthy systems can be made unhealthy, and problems made worse, when we blindly intervene in a system without understanding the greater impact. …

Is our educational system teaching us to objectify the world?

Conventional thinking is analytical. It focuses on characterizing, categorizing and differentiating individuals and groups. It is an efficient way to got a lot of information about many things, and it is the mainstay of western education. Analytical thinking is at its best when accompanied by direct experience. We integrate the knowledge we gain into our being. We observe the colors of the apple, feel the smoothness of the skin and its weight in our hand. We breathe in its fragrance and taste the fruit. When we then add information about its genus and species, and a description of how it compares to an orange, the information is anchored by our experience. When analysis is not anchored in direct experience, we are unable to make meaning from the bits of information floating around our brains. Knowing becomes equated with labeling: we can list all we “know” about an apple or an orange, and get a good grade on the test, but never see the tree or taste the fruit. Further, in this way of knowing, all that we seek to know becomes an …