The Chaos Theory of Education

“The Tipping Point” brought my attention to something Malcolm Gladwell called “the rule of 150.” In a nutshell this rule states approximately 150 people is the maximum size that a group can reach and stay relatively self managed (it’s also called [Dunbar’s Number]). What was also brought to my attention was the company Gore-Tex. This company uses that number as a limit to how large a section of their business can reach before splitting.

I decided to do some more research on Gore-Tex this morning and ran into [a blog post] that led me to an article in the Financial Times titled [“The Chaos Theory of Leadership.”]

My Vision Is Taking Shape

I have this idea for “school” that is VERY different from the standard affair. First I want to comment on a couple excerpts from the Financial Times article.

Bill Gore left DuPont to found his own company at the age of 46. He drew inspiration from Douglas McGregor’s The Human Side of the Enterprise , which was published in 1960. This book discussed two management approaches – theory X and theory Y. Theory X managers believe that employees are really only there for the money and will do as little work as they can get away with. Theory Y managers believe that people are self-motivated and keen to find meaning in their work. Guess which theory Gore found more attractive.

I think theory X and theory Y could be applied to teachers. Something like theory X teachers believe students are really only there because they have to be there and will do as little work as they can get away with. Theory Y teachers believe that students are self-motivated and keen to find meaning in their studies.

I should point out here that Bill Gore didn’t like the idea of managers and employees, so everyone in the company is an “associate.”

In Gary Hamel’s book, The Future of Management , he quotes a Gore associate, Rich Buckingham, who sums up the company’s approach. “We vote with our feet. If you call a meeting, and people show up, you’re a leader.”

Imagine this applied to education! “They vote with their feet. If you have a class and kids show up, you’re a teacher.” In a way this is already true. Bill Gates mentioned the real drop out rate in [his recent TEDTalk]. He said among minorities almost 50% of freshman never make it to graduation day ([here’s a 2006 article from the Chicago Tribune about the real drop out rate]).

Teacherless Schools

If you take the above and mash it together with the findings of Sugata Mitra ([How kids teach themselves]) I believe it starts to look like a “teacherless school.” I mean teacherless the way Bill Gore built a managerless company.

I’m going to wrap this post up but if we, at an early age, REALLY began teaching kids how to teach themselves and take control of their learning, educators would only need to be guides. I’ll elaborate more in later posts. I just wanted to note the links and ideas in my head at the moment.

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One Response to The Chaos Theory of Education

  1. miltownmom says:

    I think your idea already works great with people who are home schooling their children and the children are doing well. There are a number of families who do that. For children where there is no stability at home, who have no role models, or negative role models, I think their might be other issues to address first. I’m thinking of kids like the ones that were in the pack of 20 kids who beat a man to death on Brown Street a number of years ago. Many of the participants were young–10 or 11 years old. I remember talking to some teachers who had these kids in class–in schools that had 35-40 kids to a class in middle school, not enough books, etc, etc. I’m not sure what the solution is.

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