Creating networks of educators is a passion of mine. Bringing partial ideas and hunches together to formulate grander ideas and designs has the potential to be game-changing for education. As passionate as I may be about creating networks, I am not blind to the potential drawbacks. The pitfall that concerns me the most is the “echo chamber” effect. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people can be inspirational but it can also be stunting. When we enter the echo chamber, we are bombarded with information that reenforces our own hypotheses even when they may be unsubstantiated. Instead of being critical thinkers, we fall prey to a sycophancy of supporting ideas.
In a recent Financial Post article, David Weinberger, author of the book “Too Big to Know” states, ” There is evidence that people, when given a wide field of beliefs and opinions and sources to deal with, will gravitate towards ones that reinforce their existing beliefs, becoming more convinced and more extreme, so we end up with a more polarized society instead of a more open one.” This can happen in a school setting as well. Simply connecting with another educator or group of educators does lead to improved student results or professional knowledge.
A strong culture of critical thinking and inquiry must be developed in order to maximize the benefits of collective action. We MUST be open to the dissenting point of view if we really want to generate any idea of consequence. We must also make sure that we collaborate with people outside of our particular division, department or grade level. If great ideas come from connecting hunches, then we are more likely to create great educational ideas when we they are product of a variety of perspectives. If a math department is looking to improve the problem solving skills of a cohort of students, chances are they will experience little success if they stay within the math gene pool. Engaging the help of the English department or the Art department may provide that missing link to true inspiration.
In the “Big Think” talk in the header, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the value of realizing that the whole world does not view things the way that you do. Talking with people from other professions wakes you up to the variety of experiences and mental frameworks in the world. Gladwell uses the metaphor of the “terrible two’s” to highlight this scenario. Children become rebellious and challenging at two because they recognize that their mind is separate from their parents. Each of them has their own viewpoint. Educators must recognize that we all have our own unique mindset and being cognizant of these differences can be leveraged to great effect.
School administrators must pay close attention to school culture and develop it with great care and patience. Creating a culture of critical thinking and respect for diverse opinions will generate powerful and fully actualized ideas. If attention is not paid to developing such a culture, no change can occur because we will be caught in the echo chamber.