Compartments and Echo Chambers

I was very busy on Saturday and Monday experiencing joyful learning communities that actually are building something meaningful together – so busy experiencing the process that I had no time to write about it. In both places, experts and novices worked together in a fluid, creative, organic way that felt nothing like the processing of a factory-model environment. And in both places, there was a consensus that the whole factory-model system is broken, and not just in education. I felt more at home and more alive than I’d felt in many months!

I’ll talk more about my busy, busy weekend later this week. I need some more time to process everything I saw, heard, did, and experienced!

So today I want to focus on a post in Walter McKenzie’s blog that I read this morning. Go ahead and read it; it’s too long to quote.

I’m really intrigued by Walter’s take on compartmentalization. I’ve dealt with it on many levels

  • In my self, when I want to compartmentalize and separate different roles (my teacher-self and my home-self are good examples). I think that’s an area where everyone struggles! Most of us would agree that there are some things that you shouldn’t reveal to a stranger. So how transparent is too transparent?
  • In my associations and friendships, when I only want to associate with people who seem congenial in some way. I’ve gotten a lot better about that!
  • In my professional life, when I don’t share my thoughts about factory-model education with folks who (appear to) still embrace it. I’m getting better about that, too.
  • In my daily work, when I fall into (or get pushed into) the notion that something is “not my concern” even though it directly affects me or my students, or when I act like a “team player” even when I deeply disagree. That’s also been an area of gradual, but painful improvement … but like the compartmentalization of self, it’s an area where a degree of compartmentalization is probably a good idea.

So I want to focus today on the idea of compartmentalizing friendships and associations. It’s perfectly natural to seek out people who agree with you, and it’s equally natural to avoid those who disagree with you completely. Unfortunately, those compartments can easily turn into echo chambers with their own private language and unquestioned shared assumptions. When that happens, it’s easy to forget that “the other side” also has its own language and shared assumptions. Instead of seeking to understand each other, all too often we scream insults at each other (physically or electronically). When “the other side” responds in kind, our worst assumptions are only confirmed.

Unfortunately, as Walter points out near the end of his post, that kind of compartmentalization keeps us stuck in the very structures we want to leave behind. It perpetuates the worst features of factory-model systems at a time when there’s growing agreement that such systems need to die.

So I challenge you this week. I stepped WAY out of my comfort zone over the weekend, breaking down some major internal compartments along the way. I hope you’ll do the same. Talk to someone who disagrees with you – or seems to. Go somewhere that makes you a bit uncomfortable. Eat somewhere you’ve never eaten before. And see what it feels like to break down a few compartments and let “stuff” mix together.

quid respondētis, amīcī?

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Published in: on August 7, 2012 at 3:11 pm  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] the end of yesterday’s post, I challenged everyone (including me) […]

  2. […] you’ve read my posts from Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of this week, you know I’ve been thinking a lot about how change […]

  3. Well done Justin! I like your extension of the treatment of compartments to echo chambers!

    • Thanks, Walter! That really means the world to me coming from you.
      Next question: so how do we break down the compartments and echo chambers? Some are falling apart from their own weight, of course, but what about the others? What’s the metaphorical equivalent of demolition equipment?

  4. […] These were very diverse groups.  By no means were we “all the same” even to a casual glance.  So we “mixed stuff together” on a regular basis, and we broke down the compartments and echo chambers. […]

  5. […] I can finally write coherently about my adventures in early August! As I mentioned on Tuesday, I spent all day the previous Saturday at the Essentials Workshop sponsored by 4.0 Schools. I spent […]


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