A New Direction
If education is to meet the demands of a postmodern society, we must put aside the modernistic paradigm and move in a new direction. Even the reform focus on progress is problematic. There seems to be an essential American optimism that things will somehow always work out. Somehow, someone will keep us moving forward, progressing to a better state. New standards will be formulated and generalized to all of the schools. Somehow the rigors of the scientific method will allow us to persevere as we have before. This thinking is part of the modernistic mythology justifying the reform actions that continue to fail. Continuing to base change on the old paradigm does not lead to progress but to continuous failure to meet the needs of our society. Optimism and progress only become effectively operational in the postmodern context if they are based upon the synergetic components of this new direction.
Society appears to be in one of Thomas Kuhn's paradigm shifts (1996), a transitional period in which the old way of doing business is inadequate in the face of the enormous changes in our social and physical environment. Peter H. Wagschal recognizes that “the course schooling follows in the coming decades will depend on the paradigms people adopt in adjusting to a rapidly changing world” (1994, p. 51). He characterizes people's paradigms as “both their greatest assets and their most paralyzing handicaps and they can blind people to possibilities that go unheard despite their deafening roar” (p. 52). Personal and societal survival creates the imperative that action must be taken to initiate these requisite paradigm shifts in the most important enculturating medium, education.
To create a school system that is relevant to a postmodern society, the current school structure must be dismantled and replaced by a democratic system with institutional characteristics such as shared ownership, systemic thinking, an egalitarian culture, recognition of moral responsibility, spiritual commitment, and post-formal conversation.