Book Review
Turning Learning Right Side Up
January 2009


The Starbucks Experience

Book: Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track
Authors: Russell Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg
Publisher: Wharton School Publishing
Price:$29.99 (List)
$19.79 (Amazon)
Reviewer: Dale Deardorff

Many times books expose you to new places which can lead the reader into a revolutionary mindset - this book explores the difference between the "Old World" and the "New World" providing you exposure to a new Thinking Revolution. The book is really constructed as a three way conversation striving towards a predeclaired learning ideal between Russell Ackoff, Daniel Greenburg and yourself. Those unique voices are placed into an environment which allows questions to be asked that are essential and critical to 21st Century learning.

A series of square lines represent one author and a series of circles graphically represent the responses from each other - it becomes the readers challenge to distinguish the responses between the two, discerning the differences, recognizing the similarities and moving towards a transformational understanding in the areas of Learning, Teaching, Testing, Creativity, Treating Problems and Science & Humanities. The authors started this text as a constructive thought relationship email dialogs that have grown into the voice of a Thinking Revolution.

This revolution exposes the traditional learning model and its imperfections. But unlike many authors who describe the bad in a situation, these authors provide recommendations that are worthy of National and International implementation. Education has long been a subject explored by both authors but you will never find a clearer description of the intent of education leading to learning. The goal of education as described strays away from the original meaning which was "to lead out", "to bring out," "to elicit," and "to draw forward" versus the current view which most institutions espouse as the act or process of imparting knowledge, or skill, systemic instruction, teaching......schooling.

Mass education for all children as clarified by the authors is a recent phenomenon which is a little over a century and a half old and does little to support a lifelong enterprise and learning journey for cognitive growth. Traditional education focuses on Teaching; not Learning. These memorize and flush mentality tests understanding by regurgitation of facts, not a demonstration of the application of theory which will ultimately lead to an understanding of connections. Being taught is to a very large extent boring - to create Learning requires engaging student's curiosity. Historians and storytellers bring that excitement compared to custodians and experts in factual trial pursuit which at best create librarians of trivia, not useful to life experiences. How often have you put the answer "It Depends" on a test without causing a problem. Tests that measure skills are only partially valid at best, just a measuring someone's typing proficiency does not indicate if someone is a good or bad writer. Additionally, little effort is made in the world of education today to encourage the development of wisdom.

When I was growing up, the model for learning focused on the three "R's", Reading Writing and Arithmetic which was the previous solution to mechanizing factories. My generation was the first to experience the computer which was called a thinking machine. This thinking machine has now 30 years later been integrated into all parts of life and education has used it as a crutch at times because the current education system fails to make students aware of different patterns of thought and what each can and cannot do. Additionally education has failed to explore true systems thinking. The very core of learning is repeatedly practicing how to create links between different world-views.

What is typically taught is exploring a description of the system by the parts being taken apart to understand the individual piece which provides no knowledge and understanding of the whole. Scientific progress is due as much to the generation of new problems as to the generation of solutions to old ones.

You can only learn what your paradigm will allow you to learn - learning by doing is required. We learn a great deal by doing thru trial and error. Long before there were schools as we know them there were apprenticeships which allowed learning how to do something under the guidance of one who knows how. Everyone knows a teacher who should not be in education but because of seniority or academic rules they continue to teach and must stay. Schools are upside down because we need to explore situations where students should be teaching and faculty should be learning. It is important to keep learning continuous and filled with multi-aged students.

The authors embrace Peter Drucker's distinction between doing things right (efficiency) and doing the right things (effectiveness). Without this clear mindset you follow the misguided path of only one right answer. This prevents challenging any fundamental aspect of the way things are. The best way to learn how a mechanism works is to gain an understanding of why it works the way it does...and then to design one. Intelligence is the ability to learn, not a measure of how much one has learned.

Just think of the progress that could be made and how much could be learned by allowing others to design the learning curriculum that they want and the way to use it. Ackoff and Greenberg challenge educators to create and design institutional learning that embraces learning that is done at home, at work or outdoors. As stated one may acquire a skill by practice (ride a bike) but to become a great artist, surgeon, lawyer or scientist requires talent which cannot be taught; it must be nurtured and developed. You cannot become a philosopher by taking one class, you must create your own world-view and share that understanding publically.

As the authors propose for true learning we must strive to do the Right Things wrong and adjust from that rather than continuing to do the Wrong Things righter. As ambassadors to Systems Thinking both authors proclaim that blame is an obsolete concept. Problems are never the result of a single source, but of the interactions of multiple sources. But to do that requires that you look at a problem from many different perspectives - only then can we determine a best solution, not the only answer.

In conclusion the authors elaborate that schools have the opportunity to promote not only tolerance but also complete acceptance of those that differ from us. If we create Learning environments that develop relationships between the individual and society we are one critical step closer to achieving this. Immersion as a learning model establishes a social context connected to ongoing life experiences, the community and the person. This model strives to expose people to different patterns of thought and thinking which will ultimately lead to a clearer understanding of a simple question like "what is the answer to 2+3". Russell and Daniel would again tell you that "it depends" on 2 and 3 of what - the context is critical to the question and your ability to understand the "New World" model of turning learning right side up.