Saturday, May 29, 2010


Columnist David Brooks of the New York Times, discussed complexity and disaster in his op-ed essay, Drilling for Certainty. Brooks says there are a number of components to the BP disaster. First, people don't immediately perceive how small failings can build up to major complications. Secondly, people become accustomed to risk, like driving along the expressway at 85 miles an hour. You forget that if you were hit by the idiot careening alongside you might be dead in an instant. Third, people place an "elaborate faith" in back-up systems. This would be the equivalent of thinking that since you are wearing seat-belts and your car is equipped with airbags, you could crash at no risk. Fourth, people think that complicated risks can be matched by "complicated governing structures." "Oh, yeah, we're ready for it...." Fifth, people tend to spread good news and hide the bad... particularly when they might have to accept some form of responsibility for having failed. And finally, people in the same field tend to think alike, which means in the case of the BP oil disaster, that the oilers and the inspectors were cut from exactly the same cloth and percieving from the same narrow point of reference.

David Brooks concludes that the BP situation is not just about oil, but about how we deal with the complexity of everyday society, and that we are ill prepared to deal with complexity that is growing faster than our ability to contend with it.

And so, what the heck does this have to do with the hands? Rudolf Steiner, creator of the Waldorf educational system, believed that children should not be introduced to technologies they could not understand. The early progressive educators, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Cygnaeus, Salomon and Montesorri, believed that learning should progress gradually from the simple to the complex.

In modern life, we thrust our children into the complexity of technology without giving them a fundamental understanding of the simple things. And by doing so, we fail to give them the monitoring power, and observational framework through which to place complexity within possible control. And so, I am once again trying to explain why children should be given tools. Not the high tech tools beyond their ability to understand, but the simple ones... saws, hammers, etc. And kids should be playing with blocks, and outdoors in nature, exploring the universe with their own hands. Brooks states in the editorial,
"If there is one thing we’ve learned, it is that humans are not great at measuring and responding to risk when placed in situations too complicated to understand."
I would suggest that what Brooks says we have learned is a lesson still to be learned. We can only prepare our children for complexity by giving them a foundation upon which to build complex understanding. It begins with very simple stuff, that we choose to completely ignore in modern education.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:29 PM

    One thing we can do to better deal with complexity is to understand how nature, and evolution in particular, deals with complexity more successfully than we seem to be in our own undertakings.