Monday, January 30, 2012

Education Reform | Designing, Organizing, Communicating, & Delivering Education for Happy & Healthy Societies

Hi Colleagues,

I agree with President Obama that "higher education is not a luxury; it's an economic imperative." However, I regard education as a societal imperative.

Catalytic Questions

Will Obama's proposed changes to education benefit or perpetuate?  How do we communicate education reform?


I graduated happily with an MA in Communication and Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University and a BA in English and Communication with emphases on Creative Writing and Mass Media Studies from the University of Washington. I currently consult organizations for communication strategy and develop narrative health.

I'm seeking a doctorate program where I can expand my interests in applying the arts, communication, and leadership to transforming health, education, and the public commons. I desire to do so in a fiscally responsible and prosperous manner. I've embarked on what has become a 3 year quest to locate a doctorate program for my goals and family.  I desire to teach my themes as an adjunct professor, design innovative and beneficial approaches to education and health, and consult civic leaders and organizations on the latter.  Digital media and leadership sensibilities require me to study implications for cyber law and governance within my foci.

I've surveyed the landscape, and now proffer my ideas on education reform as follows:

Chief Obstacle

The surface complaint involves access to education, and the underlying chief complaint include the paradigms and culture codes that drive it. Here's one example of how the system backslaps the situated, or blames students for going into debt.  I hear such sentiments in the housing industry also, or that blame people who take/took out 2nd mortgages to finance a home. At first glance it seems that there's a cultural bent towards the status quo, but an angst about how things are, which to me begs the question: How can we reform a broken system if, when it comes down to it, there seems to be a lack of cultural support?

In any case, "Keeping College Affordable and Within Reach for All Americans" language makes me wary, not in the access POV, but b/c of the meritocratic implication I hear, and I fear that legislators believe access to mean lowering quality standards, which to me sounds like an -ism. Do they believe their students to have it in them to succeed? "Race to the top" language still reeks of the meritocracy that legislation allegedly changes. More bonds won't fix it, more loans won't fix it, and a .pdf list of "available" financial aid won't fix it.  If we're to improve access, then that language won't work anymore.

Containing constituents in for 6-8 years, and less than half who complete a doctorate at that, burdens their energy, snuffs out their enthusiasm, and breaks their bank as well as that of educators and taxpayers. A less than 50% completion rate nationwide discourages and leads to disillusionment in a culture that already codes education as only meritorious for utility and money.

A meritocracy doesn't help the human need to design, organize, communicate, and deliver a holos society together. A meritocracy uses standardized tests and other metrics for achievement to position the ruling class. A primal meritocracy becomes territorial and embeds obstacles in the system, e.g., higher education, to prevent students from succeeding, for if students succeed, then they compete with the territory. The ruling class then back slaps the students' efforts, criticizing them for their debt and discrediting their ideas or contribution that pose a threat.

Meritocratic concerns, primal or not, raise questions about access.  Why is edu so hard to access? Why do learners need to work 6-10 years to earn a degree, and why are times to complete so long? The latter hinders access as well: access to a credential that helps people apply their themes to society, and access to income. Leaders use the same metrics that depleted education, among other sectors, in the first place. We must reconceptualize and redesign our higher education programs altogether before proposing cost.

Current political landscape causes me to worry that education, even basic K-12, won't be available to future generations mainly because our culture both devalues education and applies rigid metrics that limit access. For instance, Obama's proposal to prevent interest rates from doubling in July '12 and adding more work study only perpetuates -- if only highlights -- the problem.

We have reduced learning to method, or the "how" motif prevalent in US culture (Block, 2002). We fight for our place in the pecking order of perceived social and economic value instead of showing instead of telling culture and society our value. We've the dominance of the PhD, which overtook the ladder climb of the Doctor of Arts (1930s-1980s).  Each carries its paradigmatic assumptions and language at times an artifact of historical development and culture codes.  

Now an allegedly saturated market with PhD begs the question:  How and why does a PhD matter with its inch wide and mile deep contribution? Again we silo knowledge and so reduce it to territory driven by the colonialist assumptions that we must "master" knowledge. Could it be that we've discomfort over mystery, over what we don't know, and prefer an illusion that we contain knowledge in ourselves as our own resource? 

Then we reach faculty status and project our genre, method, or our philosophy onto our students. Not so fast:  I've many professors who broke that mold and contributed to my journey. However, we force students into our mold when we design an admissions protocol and program that requires learners to apply with a faculty's "like" interest, theme, method, or genre.  Show me the crossovers, speak to me about desired contribution, respond to your learners, challenge cultural norms. Otherwise, we don't improve education; we perpetuate it.

Do we as academics even locate our desired contribution, vision for our work, and niche to fill in our genre or social need?  Institutions and government leaders rekindle the debate on the price tag of a liberal arts education reducing education to valid only via an monetized metric, and the conflict continues as to what constitutes being "worth" investing resources.  Is it possible to break out of the pendulum swing for a broadly applicable education process?

More than that, education as is now does not aptly respond to the need to develop a holos society. More on that later.


Recommendations include transitioning from meritocracy and siloed separatist attitudes to designing programs that guide vocational development, cross-sector contribution, utilize communication technology, improve digital and foresight literacy, and envision a holos society that keeps in step with societal changes (see Laszlo, 2001; Naisbitt, 1984). I define societal as all the sectors that we organize to build society. I include socio- political, legal, cultural, interpersonal, or the situated and systemic. We design systems, e.g., education, with which the situated, e.g., you and me, live.

I figure a change to meritocratic assumptions will benefit higher education. Just as with health reform, we need to reform our paradigm before reforming how we organize/communicate/deliver, and that before reforming how we pay for it. Contrary to US code, we need to reflect with foresight on our sector's vision and mission for society, and then embed that vision into our strategy. Talking about how we pay for it, while a logistical and tactical resource to consider, comes last. It's as if I went to a job interview and asked first thing what I assumed they'd pay me before even discussing and discovering overlap my/their desired contribution. So discuss money last to allow for brainstorming now.

I encourage programs to embed their vision/mission/desired outcomes into the program strategy, and to scaffold the dissertation in to improve time to completes. Redo your admissions protocols to ask for the learner's vision/mission/desired outcomes. Standardized tests don't guarantee student success. With conflict of interests in monetizing said tests, such tests obfuscate our process and treat knowledge as though it's siloed into our memory. If you require a test, then choose or develop one that tests process, but take care on your assumptions and culturally contrived motifs for what constitutes reasoning ability. Build your program to flex with multiple frames of knowing (see Carey, 1999).

Assess your program design and core values before you assess potential students' potential contribution. There remain no guarantees in a mortal world.  Even so admit learners holistically, or based on their vision/mission/desired outcome, motivation, community involvement, writing, interactivity, and so on. Be creative. Ask students to write their own letter of recommendation. Let them speak for themselves. Disband the "right fit" verbiage to avoid reducing your program to a container, too. By all means make social media channels and hire someone to field inquiries. Some students won't even apply if you don't communicate in digital media because digital media comprises a resource and point of access.

I advocate a modular design of coursework instead of the waterfall approach (e.g., courselist, comps, dissertation, defense). A modular and scaffolded approach overlaps each, but for the service of the a priori ab initio, or aforementioned first principle, or the program's desired contribution. A modular program would have shorter terms, each with a thematic focus and method, one with community service/employment overlap, one with a community project, a few with course lists, and, at 1-2 intervals per year, one with dissertation development. Note that the dissertation scaffolds into the program.

Value creative freedom in research. Such can be done within the program themes and desired contribution, especially if you admitted learners appropriate for your program. The dissertation can be a hypothesis or discovery-driven research, special project, or essay. Each module will build upon the learner's bibliography and program themes. The degree program will allow individualized option for learners to apply their themes to the degree genre. The goal is to create programs with 3 year time to completes that maximize the learner's theory, praxis, and a societal benefit.

Encourage learners to create creative texts or projects to study instead of rehashing, testing, or applying a previous theory or method. Remind them to design their social and medical research with open-ended, follow-up, and thematic questions via dialogue. Teach them what it means to confirm a participant (building from Anderson, Cissna, & Arnett, 1994; Cissna & Seiberg, 2005; Chase, 1996). Emphasize innovation and inquiry, which go beyond internal review boards and correspondance. We need to step up with a confirmation and contribution ethos in our work. Both researcher and participants contribute and confirm process and findings. Heed Block's (2009) call to educate and lead for community.

In addition make programs marketable for learners beyond a degree title, or design the program where the student can teach and consult, and/or write, advise civic leaders, start a business, and so on. Many learners won't reach the luxury of tenure, and that job status may not last, either. People need a diverse, but thematically focused, portfolio to earn an income. Hire more adjunct faculty who also do something else. Make the program vocationally diverse. Allow learners to design their courselist based on their desired contribution, skills, and gifts.

Utilize communication technology instead of fear it. CMC enhances your relevance, interactivity, and digital literacy. Learners need to work with co-located and distributed teams. Their work will require global teams. Change the assumption that "real" is only "in-class" and mix up the delivery modalities to include communication technology. Provide a "history of" your discipline course so students understand that it's impossible to master an entire body of work, but make it doable and lend perspective, insight, or proffer context so learners know how, where, and for what purpose to situate their work in an existing genre, or allow them to develop another. 

Learners can elect to focus on up to 3 themes/genres (vs. disciplines, e.g., health), and apply their modalities to benefit that sector. Be creative in your teaching, which requires courage and foresight to see past the offense, hype, or hysteria of the "new." For instance, I suspect that gaming can help political discourse by teaching collaboration, cooperation, innovation, storytelling, and creativity. So it's a theory-praxis program.

Embrace emergent and discovery-driven thematic research and do not worry about its discursive mess. Return the exploration (not frontiersman) motif to research.  You need not be an "expert" in your student's method, genre, or philosophy. You learn with them. Of course this pressures time when you've 40+ papers to read, and you worry if you're delivering quality.  However, who says you stop learning when you reach professor status?

Learners need not, building from Ramage (2005), fill or "pursue" a readymade degree in which to fall, but someone who believes in them as a colleague, contributor, and member of society and then together helps them translate that belief into treatises, essays, projects, and research design. Otherwise we risk oppressing the students by expecting them to continue our paradigm.  Faculty let me explore my themes within the disciplinary genre, but did not confine me in their preferred methods or paradigms.

In addition we need to enhance digital literacy, collaboration, and flesh out cyber law. Digital and social media contributes to education with its embedded interactivity and storytelling. I've developed my recommendations here from conversations in social media over several months. I see cyber law as a niche to develop for the public commons. I perceive past assumptions, or silod meritocratics, at odds with the collaborative and sharing culture in digital media, which includes multi-modal channels such as internet, social media, and mobile technology (see Chvasta, 2003).

Reframe students as learners (process), constituents (contributors), and influencers (leaders). Emphasize education as development, which requires a program that allows for that process to take place.

For holistic design and sustainability, we can no longer afford to silo knowledge, or study a topic an inch wide and mile deep. It will take eons for others to "mine" that info and we need not bootstrap our system, or make it totally reliant upon ourselves. Note the primal scene in delivering education to protect our siloed territory.

Thus, education reform needs more opportunity for interaction and collaboration embedded into the requirements. After all, we expect our politicians to have broad shoulders that care about outcomes, or to work together for a common goal. We must develop such leaders.

Include family instead of imply learners must separate (there we go again to the silo) family from learning with the patronizing imperative to "balance work and family." Rapoport, Bailyn, Fletcher, and Pruitt (2002) already made a case that doing so comes from a gendered meritocratic norm. Confront the US cultural norm for siloing vs. sharing, competing and merit vs. collaborating and contributing to community.

Know the demands that adult learners face in child-bearing, elder care, work, and their own self-care. Provide supportive resources beyond educational brochures. Build infrastructure, such as breast-feeding stations and day cares, and offer hybrid delivery that utilizes communication technology to reduce, but maximize, on-ground requirements. Doing so reduces travel time, displaces carbon footprint, and may prevent drop-outs while expediting time to completes and empowering students to apply their studies in other life spheres. We must design programs that embed our core values because those systems influence outcomes.

Note that the ends and means don't justify each other, but influence and reflect the ethos of our process and outcomes. We must account for the justice and mercy in our social sectors, including education, where doing so means we are honest about our contribution. No more can we backslap students for going into debt for school any more than we can spank mortgage product owners for going into debt for a house. The system and the norms need to change just as do our situated habits. Assuming that the family is the first nation, then changing to a supportive and contributory norm, well imagine how that will help even politicians finally work together.

Resist the urge to swing the pendelum with wedge issues with holistic life at stake. Who are we to say what primary metric, theory, text, paradigm, or philosophy in use ought to be a primary mode to educate? Note that education as process resists, ideally, polar points or positions in favor of dialogue and confirmation. Otherwise we risk perpetuating hate speech by building oppressive systems that stereotype learners or people groups with whom we disagree over philosophy, method, or framework.

Design programs that respect freedom as a means to thrivability. In a free society tolerance means putting up with, but that virtue hinders drawing nearer to collaborate for solutions. I suggest compassionate and skillful contribution as a more effective or at least desireable virtue because then you must make the effort to draw near in conversation with someone else for a shared vision or goal instead of subordinating them to the imago mei or even ma/paternalism carved into our education system.

To that end, I encourage faculty, departments, and universities to break down political barriers within academia before expecting politicians to do the same. In lack of resources it's tempting to powerhold and fight over who gets what with a spirit of fear. Instead of framing your ask for your department, discipline, or university only, or crafting your message in making wedge issues out of which academic genre is better, interact with people and universities other than those in your department or school. Be that standard and benefit that we expect of others.

Invite collaboration beyond the conference or bibliometric of citing each other's work, journal primacy, which can risk conflict of interest and bias, amount to peer pressure or lead to in-fighting, and hinder constituent health, just as clinician referrals do. Offset journal dominance. Challenge notions that the printed and published are "permanent." Acknowledge blogging and other digital media as relevant citations and publications. Learn digital culture's norms for giving credit.  Vouch for transparency and sharing.

Account for the pendulum swing that often shapes discourse. Notice the primal scene of making one text or genre or discipline primary (see Hunter, 1999).  Doing so affects access because you monetize and credentialize one genre at the expense of others.  Quit framing your method or paradigm as a reaction to the former.

Reflect with foresight on what you want your situated and systemic desired contribution to be. Then show stories of people and groups making a positive difference together to that end. In all I propose designing programs for a reflective learning/vocational benefit. Ideally this approach improves time to completes, sustainability, and rapport with the hosting locale.  Respect reciprocity: Give back to your hosting locale!

Enmesh social justice of some tone into your program.  For me that ethos explains the implications of the fear/love dialectic and the fear-->judgment-->hate-->death progression (1 John 4:18-19). Design program themes to respond to common human experiences such as mortality awareness and fear, and provide loving interventions for the many woes that follow suit.  Design your program with foresight understanding what the next generation wants. Their cultural norms will influence your potentially shrinking or overly bloated application pool.

So care for your learners, each other, and society, and love what you learn and do with this wild and glorious life. Design programs with overlapping modules that value holism. Observe that holism includes transformative influence, mind/body/soul, relationships, economics, and other frames of knowing (building from Carey, 1999). In other words, care for your students' job prospects as much as you care about the ethos of your process and the student as a whole person both situated and systemic.

Require an ethos in their design that desists reducing participants to people outside of themselves, or primal containers of their predecessers. This outsider or separatist primal mindset that objectifies and thus reduces learners leads to power abuse such as police pepper spraying or shooting rubber bullets at students. Shed compliance initiatives in education; allow the learning to be discursive, overlapping, interdisciplinary, multi- modal and channel, interactive, vocational, holistic, and otherwise messy.

Practically, we can't keep piling our genres as they develop over time and expect our progeny to consume and contain it all. Embed a participatory ethos by participating (building from Behar, 1996; Denzin, 2003; Russell, 2004). Work together! Develop compassion that way. Watch your program flourish. Consider the benefits of networking and designing education programs for diplomacy, or even friendship (building from Tillmann-Healy, 2003).

To recap

  • We need to offset the primal scenes in education in favor of collaborative contribution, societal benefit and health, sustainability, and efficacy.
  • We need to replace meritocratic assumptions with holism and an ethos for learner contribution and societal benefit.
  • We need to reconceptualize our programs in terms of classic vocational development, transformative influence, and vision/mission/desired contribution.
  • We must reflect on what and why of our process and the implications of our method before deciding on how to allocate resources.

My Desired Contribution

For my part I aim to write and consult politically in my area to contribute to education reform. I propose a narrative health approach recognizing that this approach constitutes one genre, modality, and language.  Even so, narrative health assumes and embeds holism in paradigm, design, and practice. Narrative health involves realizing aesthetic intent (building from Conquergood, 1983; 1985; 1998; Mattingly, 1998; Pelias & VanOosting, 1987).

A holistic paradigm considers and includes all frames of knowing and learns how to apply them per context and sector via per means and ends. Most importantly, proffer reflective learning to engage focus and contribute vocation for a situated and systemic benefit.

I encourage candidates, educators, and artists to use social media to inquire of and interact with their constituents. The metric is the interaction and not broadcasting. In this way social media can help politics by aiding content producers to be more in touch with the people whom they serve. Consider the benefits of designing communication systems that listen, where listening and responding also constitute communicating.

I'm interested in contributing to education reform via consulting and co-writing a paradigm shift for education book section, and translating that to networking with civic leaders.  I seek to study writing as applied to health and the public commons (e.g., education, law, leadership).

My "credo" or mission in my work stems from this biblical imperative: "Wholly absorb yourself in your gifts that God has given you so that everyone will see your progress... Pay close attention to your teaching so that it will save its hearers including yourself" (italics added, 1 Timothy 4:14-16 NASB). So for me education means vocational development, which comes down to a vocationally holistic imperative, or reflecting on (quiet) and applying (activity) God's calling via his spiritual gifts.

Normatively, Christians use those to build the church and to reach out or "shine as a city on a hill" (Matt. 5:14) with the ever-nudging credo: "all things are permissable, but not all things benefit" (1 Cor. 10:23). Do we shine in our example in education? Do we seek a benefit in our education?

Such principles transfer. I appreciated Moreland's (1997) call to apply one's calling in academia, Palmer (1990; 1998; 2000; 2004) and Buford (1995) on vocation, and Schultze's (2000) emphasis on communicating for life and peace. Move beyond the inferiority complex of believing we must always be starving students barely nudging the working class ceiling.  Transition from this inferiority ego to a public service mindset.

My friend told me, "You have a right to prosper. It's sinful to not charge for your services." She put a new spin on "sin" and challenged my paradigm that I'm a starving artist, and I realized that we design systems for dominance when it's better to design them for social benefit. Develop people via vocation, reflective learning, and program themes in a modular program designed to succeed in a timely fashion so that learners can contribute their genres and modalities as influencers and contributors.

Beyond all that, I like to challenge assumptions, translate academic language, and explain the culture codes and primal scenes driving paradigms.  Mostly I dig to unearth guiding principles, and hope be an holistic influence.  I write about what I learn desiring to draft reform.  I interweave the writer's happy solitude with fieldwork in volunteering and consulting.

In the field, whether education, health, or civic, I apply guiding principles via my modalities. I discern the nature of my contribution since I've been in the field. I've interacted with people and their context. Allowing others to help and shape my contribution humbles me and benefits outcomes. So whether or not society monetizes my contribution, I keep at my craft.


Practice and normalize such heartfelt and holistic academic anthropology that responds and shapes the situated, systemic, discerned, and applied. Opt for a holistic society, and design education for that purpose and with that process.

I've a hunch that education as vocational development, again vocation in the classic sense that draws on a learner's adversity, gifts, desired skills and contribution, provides a healthy happy approach to education.  We need programs that improve access to a learner's intent and communal benefit with shorter times to complete, paradigm shifts from merit to holism and competition to contribution, and a modular adaptive design.

In all a successful degree program does not ecquivocate to a gauntlet unless of course you run it as a primal meritocracy. That's the metric for a primal meritocracy. The key is to make education more flexible, doable, compassionate, and sustainable. Doing so requires offsetting meritocratic assumptions and practices that perpetuate reductionism, separatism, and containment. Freire (1970) and Parker Follett (1918) provide timely reads for education and democracy.

Performance will be required regardless the framework. Remember that a doctorate of philosophy is a philosophy of a discipline.  We must pride ourselves in a high, not low, completion rate. Education must not be for the oligarchy or meritocracy, but a living, flexible, and growing entity that, practically speaking, is but an important season in people's lives. Constantly apply and weave your academic themes with your organizational life in all its sectors. Bridge your program with your hosting locale's needs.  Be communally relevant and holistically beneficial.

Remember that enlightenment refers to the Latin meaning of "education," and "vocation" the voice that calls in the wilderness. If we're to design a Holos civilization, or a healthy society, then we must bring together our frames of knowing to a process that progresses theory-->praxis with an ethos for contribution of a beneficial kind. In times of loss, whether recession or an election year, we do well to respond to fear/phobia cross sector/team with courage and resilience to benefit the person and the deliverables.

Such concludes holistic leadership, the umbrella theme under which my efforts to reform how and why we communicate about health and leadership for the public commons. Consider the benefits of designing, organizing, communicating, and delivering education programs that help people to thrive as they contribute to a happy and healthy society.

Learn More

Read more on Obama's suggested changes to education:

Read more about my recommendations for education reform. Access my research and consulting.


What education design, assumptions, paradigms, and outcomes do you recommend as ideal? Why, and then How?

For the win,


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