Stability and Change in Our Environment, Organizations, and Individual Lives (Part 1)

Over the past few months I have posted drafts of different sections of the book on technology integration in Silicon Valley schools that I have been working on since the beginning of this year. These two posts comes from my final chapter on stability and change in our lives and schools.

Over the past millions of years (not a typo, millions) Earth’s polar ice caps extended into equatorial South America, Africa, and Asia. Over time, these ice-bound regions receded and moderate to tropical climate in non-polar regions returned. Using the time scale of millions of years, there has been much continuity and change in climate on Earth.

Human organizations do not have that enormous time span but one in particular, the Roman Catholic Church, has existed for almost two thousand years. Within the Church, sects have arisen and broken away (e.g., the Protestant Reformation). Other groups protesting Church rules have formed and, over time, have become incorporated into the Church. Over the last millennium, Popes banished heretics, sponsored Crusades, survived the break away of German and English Catholics to form Lutheran and Anglican churches in the 16th century, and continue to oversee the lives of over a billion Catholics across the globe. In almost two thousand years, the Church has had long periods of stability punctuated by both swift and slow-motion years of change.

And in a single lifetime of 70-plus years for individual human beings, constancy and change mark one’s personality and character as a person moves from infancy to childhood, adolescence, becoming an adult, and then into old age.

Using different time scales, continuity and change characterize the environment we live in, the organizations that influence our lives, and what individuals experience in their life span of eight to nine decades. From millions of years to millennia to decades, stability and change are abiding partners.

Climate change. While there are nay-sayers that global climate has not changed significantly beyond the usual cyclical trends that have characterized weather patterns for millennia, physical and natural scientists have concluded that human actions such as industrialization, particularly burning fossil fuels, across the globe have increased the amount of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere, ocean warming, and melting polar caps. Increased floods tornados and hurricanes, expanding arid land across continents, and rising water levels have only added fuel to what has turned into a political debate across the globe. No question that climate change itself has become an economic and social issue engaging both the political right and left. [i]

International climate accords to restrict fossil fuel use and increase alternative power sources in both industrialized and developing nations have been signed over the past few decades. But those international agreements (e.g., Rio Earth Summit in 1992; Kyoto Protocol in 1997; Paris Agreement, 2015) are voluntary and enforcement shifts as government leaders come and go in the major countries (e.g., President Donald Trump ending regulations in 2017 that President Barack Obama had made). [ii]

Going beyond the politicization of climate change are the cycles of change and continuity in climate patterns in the past millions of years. Evidence drawn from drilled ice core samples in Greenland and Antarctica along with samples from Devil’s Hole (Nevada) reveals alternating periods of warming and cooling. At least eight glacial and interglacial ages lasting from 80,000 to 120,000 years affirm both change and constancy in global climate. Warming and cooling eras have marked Earth’s history over millions of years. Currently in an interglacial period that has lasted thousands of years, human actions since the 1750s—when industrialization anchored in fossil fuels accelerated–have independent of the tilt of the planet, the sun’s influence, shifts in ocean currents, and other factors, caused accelerated melting of the polar ice caps, shrinking of glaciers, warming of the atmosphere and rising ocean levels to create changes in weather patterns across the globe.[iii]

When looking at the Earth’s climate on a time scale of millions of years, eras of stability and change emerge clearly. Moving from millions of years to millennia, from interactions between planet’s geology, sun, oceans, and climate to human-created organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church, a similar pattern of continuity and change appear.
Roman Catholic Church. Nearly two thousand years old, this man-made organization has also experienced periods of swift and slow change interspersed with decades, even centuries, of equilibrium. Like all organizations, the Church was (and is) located in a larger society in which political, social, cultural, and demographic changes spill over its organization influencing what happens within its confines. [iv]

The early Church’s fight against Roman worship of many gods proved successful over a few centuries when Emperor Constantine’s adopted Christianity in the fourth century. From that point through the Middle Ages, the Church exerted a holistic and sustained hold on the lives of kings, nobles, and common people in the Holy Roman Empire. With the Protestant Reformation and growth of nationalism throughout Europe especially after the French Revolution and the onset of industrialization the Church’s influence shrank as nations shied away from too close a connection with the principal religion in Europe and eventually the rest of the world. Separation of church and state within nations spread in the 19th and 20th centuries across the globe.

Even after corrupt Popes, explosive heresies, the Protestant Reformation, mishaps covering centuries, and two World Wars the Roman Catholic Church, an absolute monarchy overseeing a centrally controlled, hierarchal institution, has persisted through adapting to unforeseen shifts in the world they inhabited. Through these centuries, Church authorities experienced stability and unpredictable changes, century after century, that threatened their very existence as they negotiated how to maintain basic principles and practices during both tranquil and turbulent times. If longevity is a marker for organizational success, then the survival of the Church for nearly two millennia is a gold medal winner.

How do organizations constructed by human hands maintain continuity amid explosive and unpredictable changes? Many do not survive major changes. Governments, businesses, and universities appear and disappear. Failure to live more than a decade is the norm. Change overwhelms many organizations. Some, however, survive and thrive.

One common pattern among institutions like the Church that have lasted for centuries is to domesticate those internal and external groups that challenge its authority—as did once the Franciscans and Dominicans and groups labeled as heretics. After negotiations between Popes and their opponents, former heretics would swear allegiance to the Church and become part of it.

In effect, as resisters would adapt to the Church, the leaders would create an enclave within its institution where former opponents could operate and become advocates of papal authority. This pattern of enclaving tamed reformers seeking to alter Church principles and teaching while accommodating ideas and practices of former opponents; such co-optation occurs in many other institutions as a strategy to both adapt to change while maintaining continuity in goals and direction of the institution.[v]

Climate change on Earth and the Roman Catholic Church exhibit long-term patterns of change and stability in their histories. Time scales vary dramatically but the constancy of change interrupted by periods of stability occurs both in nature and human-contrived institutions. So, too, for the individual life span. The time scale in years shrinks from millions on Earth to millennia in the Roman Catholic Church to decades in a human life but the same twosome of continuity and change holds.

Continuity and Change in Human Behavior. While researchers quarrel over what causes individuals to be who they are and behave as they do in infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age there is general agreement, based on scores of longitudinal studies, that both change and continuity occur within a human life span.

By five years of age, for example, physical and cognitive growth spurts have changed toddlers and young children physically, emotionally, and cognitively. Such swift growth of infants into early childhood, researchers have established, shapes personality, behaviors, and attitudes sufficiently that predictions—with different levels of probability–can be made, for example, about a child’s height, intelligence, personality traits, and achievement as an adult. Thus, early development changes become stable features of youth and adulthood. While continuity becomes a pattern as an individual gets older, changes fueled by genes, peer influence, and life events, still occur but with far less impact on traits formed in the first five years of development. These studies confirm also that growing children’s interactions between these features and the environment (family, neighborhood, school) play an important role in their development with peers and workplace as they move into adolescence and adulthood.[vi]

Hence, developmental changes and stability in a range of human characteristics between infancy and adulthood, influenced by the settings in which children and adults experience, typify the seven to nine decade life span of individuals.

Since the mid-1960s, such studies of child development have had concrete implications for schooling. Policy emphasis on early childhood education, especially for poor children of color, beginning with three- and four year-olds, federally funded Head Start, and kindergarten through third grade have occupied researchers, civic and business leaders for decades.[vii]

Continuity and change and the inevitable tensions they embody, I argue, occurs on a global scale through climate change, within longstanding organizations such as the Roman Catholic Church, and individuals. But none of this is self-evident.

Were one to take a step back and ponder the changes that have occurred in one’s lifetime—I was born in 1934—the political, social, economic, and technological changes over the past eight decades seem staggering. In a culture, where change is highly prized and techno-optimism about the future is baked into the national DNA, everything appears in flux. The key words in the last two sentences are “ seem” and “appears.” Except if one were to take a historical perspective and apply a time frame that stretches out over a century or more. Then the “seem” and “appear” dissolve.

Consider walking into a frame house owned by a middle-class family in New York City in 1870. It would have a kitchen with a fireplace serving as both furnace and oven, bedrooms with fireplaces, a parlor to entertain guests, windows, doors, furniture that would be faintly familiar to our 21st century eyes except for the outdoor latrine that serves the entire family and a stable for horses to transport the family.

Fast-forward three generations and walk into a middle-class family’s home in 1940. Flush toilets replaced outhouses, washing machines replaced hand-wringers, gas-fired stoves replaced hearths, electric lights replaced candles. On a table would be a rotary dial telephone and outside the house parked by the curb would be the family car.[viii]

Now skip ahead another three generations to the early 21st century. Surely, there have been many changes since the 1940s in how we live, work, travel, communicate, and get medical treatment but the obvious changes in communication, transportation, home appliances, and opportunities to work in 2018 have been incremental ones to the existing technologies in each of these areas. Smart phones, faster planes, safer cars, and interlocked home computer networks appear so dramatically different from the 1940s so it is understandable but nonetheless inaccurate to ignore the basic continuity in new technologies enhancing older ones, not replacing them. [ix]

After all, a smart phone combines in one device fast and frequent communication, quick access to information, taking photos, and recording conversations. Yet all of these were available in separate devices half-century ago. Faster and more fuel-efficient jets carry passengers to their destinations than previous lumbering four engine prop planes but aircraft transported passengers then also. Or consider health care. Technological advances in medical diagnosis and treatments through echo cardiograms, MRIs, and an array of pills that would stun an earlier generation still depend upon a doctor listening to a patient, taking a history, and figuring out what tests the patient should take and what therapies to recommend based on the test results.

Think a moment about driver-less cars and trucks as the most recent manifestation of new technologies altering transportation. Current state laws governing car accidents have yet to adapt to automated transportation. There are product liability laws that will have to adapt to robotic transportation. Who, for example, is responsible for parking and traffic tickets? Whose fault is it when injuries and deaths occur involving driverless cars? But the laws carry within them continuity—manufacturers continue to be responsible for the safety of their products—and adaptations to technological changes will occur as they have when autos replaced horse-drawn transportation. [x]

These changes in communication, transportation, and medical practice are incremental bolstering underlying patterns that already had existed for decades. Mistaking a smart phone or a fast jet for a “revolutionary” change in our lives is common hyperbole in a culture where techno-optimism reigns. The inflated language misses the constant updating of practices that have existed for many decades.

Consider further that continuity persists in the social and economic sectors. While legal segregation of races and ethnicities has been banned since the 1950s, these separations in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods continue. As do racial disparities in distribution of income.

Sharp inequalities in wealth and income that existed in the early 20th century shrank during the Great Depression and World War II but have returned to those earlier levels in the past three decades. Yes, striking shifts in manufacturing and factory jobs have occurred while service and technological occupations have mushroomed.

Similarly, the state and federal regulations that have reigned in corporate influence on public policy such as government regulation, the U.S. tax code, and health care since the 1990s has decreased measurably in the early 21st century. Stability and change are constant. [xi]

Finally, consider the laws that govern our lives. The law, then and now, serves a dual function—social stability and adaptation to social change. The essence of a democracy is where rule of law, not rule by officials’ arbitrary decisions dominate daily life in the U.S. Governmental actions often end up adapting to changes while insuring continuity. [xii]

All of these examples of stability and change in laws governing our lives, climate change, organizations, and our individual lives can be applied to teaching and schooling in the U.S. The 41 Silicon Valley teachers across nine schools in five districts that I observed and interviewed in 2016 combined both continuity and change.

___________________________________________________

[i] Naomi Oreskes, “Beyond the Ivory Tower: Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” Science, 2004, 306 (5702), p. 1686; NASA, “Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate is Warming,” April 2017 at: https://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

On political polarization, see Pew Research Center, “The Politics of Climate,” October 4, 2016 at: http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/10/04/the-politics-of-climate/

[ii] European Council, “International Agreements on Climate Actions,” June 2016 at: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/climate-change/international-agreements-climate-action/

Coral Davenport and Alissa Rubin, “Trump Signs Executive Order Unwinding Obama Climate Policies,” New York Times, March 28, 2017.

[iii] Spencer Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008).

[iv]Sources I used for this section are: Michael Knowles, et. al, “Roman Catholicism,” Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016 at: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Roman-Catholicism;

Roger Finke and Patricia Wittberg, “Organizational Revival from Within: Explaining Revivalism and Reform in the Roman Catholic Church,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 2000, 39(2), pp. 154-170.

[v]Henry Mintzberg and Frances Westley, “Cycles of Organizational Change,” Strategic Management Journal, 1992, 13 (special issue), pp. 39-59.

[vi]Benjamin Bloom, Stability and Change in Human Characteristics (New York:John Wiley and Son, 1964); Avshalom Caspi, et. al., “Personality Development: Stability and Change,” Annual Review of Psychology, 2005, 56, pp. 453-484.

[vii] Benjamin Bloom, “The New Direction in Educational Research: Alterable Variables” The Journal of Negro Education, 1980, 49(3), pp. 337-349; James Heckman, “Early Childhood Investments Substantially Boost Adult Health,” Science, March 28, 2014, 343(6178), pp. 1478-1485.

[viii]Robert Gordon, The Rise and Fall of American Growth (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2015).

[ix] Robert Gordon, The Rise and Fall of American Growth (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2015

[x] Claire Miller, “When Driverless Cars Break the Law,” New York Times, May 13, 2014.

[xi]Sean Reardon, et. al., “ Brown Fades: The End of Court-Ordered School   Desegregation and the Resegregation of American Public Schools,”

Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 2012, 31(4), pp. 876-904; Rodney Hero and Morris Levy, “The Racial Structure of Economic Inequality in the United States: Understanding Change and Continuity in an Era of ‘Great Divergence,’ “ Social Science Quarterly, 2016, 97(3), pp. 491-505.

[xii] Newton Edwards, “Stability and Change in Basic Concepts of Law Governing American Education,” The School Review, 1957, 65(2), pp. 161-175.

 

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