This week we’re deviating from our usual structure to focus on change. And in doing so, we thought it would be useful to consider some change theory from one of the most influential thinkers of the past century: Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn was not an educator, but rather a scientist and historian. However, his theory of “revolutionary science” and paradigm shifts has plenty of implications for our work in schools.
Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions explores the process by which new paradigms come to replace old ones in science. For instance, the paradigm of geocentrism, the view that the earth is the center of the universe, was replaced by heliocentrism, which assumes that the earth and other planets in our solar system revolve around the sun.
The shift from one paradigm to another occurs when enough anomalies to the current paradigm build up, causing scientists to question the foundational principles upon which their worldview rests. During “normal science,” when the current paradigm is in place, these anomalies are discounted as acceptable levels of error. However, during “revolutionary science” or a paradigm shift, these anomalies become the center of attention as scientists attempt to construct a new world view that incorporates and explains them. This period of intense focus on explaining anomalies and developing a new paradigm is considered a “crisis.” Once a new paradigm is developed, however, there is a return to “normal science” under the new worldview.
Do we need a paradigm shift in education? In our individual schools or classrooms? What anomalies challenge the principles upon which we have built our practice? How could we focus our attention on these outliers to gain insight into the flaws of our educational worldview? What paradigm should come next?