Educational Systems Theory

Property: education system


"A system is a group with at least one affect relation which has information." (p. 44)

"... teacher, student, content, and context are taken as forming a system of education." (Steiner, 1988, p. 107) Thus, the components or subsystems of an education system are teacher, student, content and context, and affect relations pertain to how these components are connected.

In Figure 4 below, the shaded area represents an education system, and the non-shaded area its negasystem.



Steiner (1988) has indicated that an education system must consist of teacher, student, content, and context subsystems. It seems to me that Steiner's notion of education identifies kinds of relationships which ought to occur in education (affect relations).

A teacher is one who guides the learning of another. This defines a kind of affect relation between two persons. Person A may guide the learning of Person B, and Person B may guide the learning of Person A. For example my wife of Irish descent has taught me to cook Chinese style dinners. I have given her guidance in using our computer at home. Furthermore, guidance of learning is not restricted to direct instruction (e.g., lecture, demonstrate, answer questions, ask questions). Learning may be guided indirectly as it is frequently in Montessori classrooms in which it occurs through interaction with the curriculum materials. Furthermore, the older students may guide younger students in Montessori classrooms in which mixed-age groups exist. These older peers act in the role of teacher (i.e., one who guides the learning of another). If teaching is viewed as an affect relation, then it unbinds us from thinking of teacher as a component in education. Teaching is a relationship between two persons, one of whom guides the other who follows.

A student is one who intends to learn through guidance from a teacher. In contrast, a learner is one who attempts to learn without guidance -- e.g., by trial-and-error. Studenting is also an affect relation that ought to occur in education. An undesirable kind of affect relation would be one who is being forced to learn against his or her will.

Content is that which is to be learned. There are both student-content and teacher-content affect relations. The kinds of student-content affect relations that we ought to create in education are cognitive, conative and affective. We want students to come to know the objects of learning (cognitive relationship with subject matter), to value such objects, and to associate positive feelings with the objects of learning. Subject matter need not be constrained to extant classifications such as mathematics, science, history, language arts, etc. The types of teacher-content affect relations can be similarly classified. Teachers should know the subject matter (and how to guide learning of subject matter, which is a further kind of understanding of content), value it, and love it.

Context is the setting in which guidance of learning occurs. When my wife helps me learn to cook, the context we work in is the kitchen. When I help her to use our computer, that usually occurs in the context of our home office area. Typical contexts of present-day, formal education systems include classrooms in school buildings, principals, janitors, local school boards, furniture, black/white boards, overhead projectors, computers, books, libraries, gymnasiums, school buses, cash, cafeterias, food, etc. Context could also include state departments of education, and national departments of education -- if these are considered to be part of the education system. We have student-context, teacher-context, and content-context affect relations. When I am learning to cook, student-context relations include my reading a recipe from a book, observing my wife cook, chopping vegetables, measuring rice and water, etc. When my wife is learning to use a word-processor to make large-print words, student-context relations include her using a computer system and software program. (She makes curriculum materials for her pre-school Montessori classroom, which is a teacher-content relation.) There are also content-context affect relations. The object of learning may be symbolically represented through printed words in a book (e.g., a math textbook); the object of learning might be iconically represented through a videotape (e.g., a documentary on Martin Luther King); the object of learning might be physically present in the current setting (e.g., artifacts from an archeological dig; the city mayor herself).

Education Negasystem

"An education negasystem is the components not taken to be in the education system." (p. 45)

Nowadays the negasystem would include the local community -- e.g., parents and other people, business, industry, local government. The universe of discourse could be extended to include state and national levels, or for that matter world-wide. If so, these would be part of the negasystem. Notice that the boundary between an education system and its negasystem does not have to be a physical boundary, in the sense of geographic space. For example, the local school board is normally part of a community's education system. The board members are seldom physically present on school grounds. Nowadays, State Departments of Education are part of local education systems in that they affect policies, practices, and financing. Those State Departments are physically remote but can be considered part of a local community's education system. On the other hand, churches are not considered part of our public education systems, and would be considered part of the negasystem as would business and industry.

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Last updated by T. W. Frick, Feb. 12, 1996.