Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Yoda and Theories of Action

I learned about theories of action when I attended the Harvard Institute for School Leadership a few summers ago. The idea is simple: establish a cause-and-effect relationship between your actions and your goals. If I do X, then Y will happen. If I do X and Y doesn't happen, then my theory of action doesn't work and I need to revise it. Consciously identifying your theory of action creates a feedback mechanism that can help you hone your actions, moving you closer to your goal.

Many people have the stated goal of improving education on a wide-scale. They want to change the system. Yet they repeatedly do the same things over and over again without much effect. When things don't work out, they identify dozens of intervening actions by other actors that prevented them from achieving their goal. They don't learn from their failure because they don't perceive their actions as failing. They never really believed that if they did X, then Y would happen. They believed that if they did X, then Y would happen if a bunch of other people did a bunch of other things at the same time.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda tells Luke Skywalker, "Try not. Do or do not. There is no try." At the time I remember thinking, "Harsh toke, dude." (Or words to that effect... I was only eleven at the time.) But if there is no causal relationship between your actions and your goals, how do you evaluate whether you are taking the correct actions or not? Trying to improve education on a wide-scale is a massively complex undertaking, and it is the height of hubris to believe that you are going to stumble on an effective theory of action on your first try. Trying is not enough. And it is difficult to learn without the feedback that comes from failure.

I see so many ed reformers scattered across the landscape, each fighting the good fight and trying to hold their own little piece of the battlefield, waiting for the calvary to come charging over the hill. Except it never does. Maybe it is time for us to try some new theories.

No comments:

Post a Comment