Interpreting Worldview


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How to use worldview to interpret rapidity of change.

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Interpreting Worldview

  1. 1. BIODr. Trent KeoughPresident and CEOPortage Collegetrent.keough@portagecollege.caTrent Keough is the President and CEO of Portage College (Alberta, Canada). Hisresearch interests include change philosophy, cultural transformation, andleadership praxis. Trent has authored more than 40 presentations, workshops,articles, and speeches. His research interests include intentional communities,diversity awareness, literary nationalism, existential phenomenology,multiculturalism, the function of colleges in rural economic development, andmost recently, the epistemology of change within postsecondary education. Leading for a Brighter Tomorrow: Worldview and the Fear UnderminingEducation’s Future Leaders of postsecondary education work in tumultuous times (Kinser andHill, 2011). We are not alone. There is much to be anxious about. Our physicalenvironment, social contracts, and limits of reasoned possibility are all susceptibleto abrupt changes. Today’s world is rife with political uncertainty, civildisobedience, and moral discord. There are repeated threats of imminenteconomic collapse. Global warming brings untold future environmentalcatastrophe. Forecasting of doom is incipient. Too many of us live in a state offear and uncertainty. There is a collective obsession with expectation of the unknown.Postsecondary institutions are not impervious to this social malaise. The sheerrapidity of change has shocked some into denial/rebuttal of the need toundertake self-transformation. They are experiencing unspecified change trauma.This state exists when moving from a healthy indifference to change, i.e. theoffsetting down period when experiencing change fatigue, to delusions ofreprieve from change itself. Postsecondary institutions in denial of their own 1
  2. 2. uncertainty are becoming citadels of self-justification. Preoccupied withmaintaining the status quo, they are not responding to define their presentcurrencies, let alone their future identities and purposes. The weakest of theseorganizations are increasingly alienated from the ordinary life-expectations oftheir students and communities. Evolving social relevancy is essential for long-term sustainability ofpostsecondary institutions. The speed at which relevancy needs to be reassessed,and by whom, has changed dramatically. Educational institutions were oncerespected for being ivory towers that grew in value because of the human patinacast by their shadows. Contemporary education, however, resides in a nomadicglobal village where diversity of form and content draws both students andaccolades. Tomorrow’s learning will continue to take place on-the-street, in thejob place, over the internet via social networks, and in informal environments lednot by expert authority but governed by collaborative inquiry and democraticdecision-making. The present demands on postsecondary institutions can be at odds withtheir historical purposes, origins and governance structures. Today,postsecondary education is a customer service business. Educators respond tolearning customers’ demands for ongoing professional development andemployability skills. Postsecondary institutions function to grow economicdiversification and sustainability. Some will argue these points to the humanistcontrary. Postsecondary education was never the exclusive measure of a society’scommitment to human development. Nor is it a singular future indicator of thesocial value attributed to the learned or erudition. Postsecondary education is in an era of reformation, one identified bydissent and division over its purpose, function and future. New measures ofscholarship, new means for dissemination of ideas, and new avenues forparticipation in knowledge dialogues are taking hold. We are in another liminalperiod on the timeline of conceptual possibility. We are poised to cross atechnology threshold that will mark the end of conventional education and itstraditionalist learning paradigms. Perhaps intuitive nanotechnology will be 2
  3. 3. combined with bio- genetic manipulation to effect this change. Regardless of themeans, the very best of future learning will be easy; knowledge will be on-demand, instantaneous, and widely accessible. With open-source on-demandknowledge moving to the consumer’s horizon, there’s a systemic obsolescenceabout to occur: the end of education as profession and institution. How and why we come to imagining this madding time, place, and futureproposition is complex. Some of its causes can be ascribed to capitalism’smigration into the relationship economy. Capitalism’s revolutionary compatriot,technology, has also instigated remarkable change contributing to unease. Notthe least important for educators is technology’s impact in classrooms and on therole of the teacher. Technology has modified the rudiments of our teachingparadigm by offering heightened engagement, gamification, badges, andedutainment, etc. When identifying ‘how’ we come to be in tumultuous times toomuch effort is expended debating the piecemeal causes of ‘where is here.’Fractured dialogues move us further from the possibility of sharing belief in acollective futurology. The only true means to determine ‘where is here’ is to offera complete etiology for the current reality. Ordinary citizens are ill-equipped to name present cultural and historicalimpulses altering courses of future history. Most do not consider the historicallyconditioned present moment in relation to its immediate impact on figuring atomorrow. The nuances and subtleties of causation are even more difficult todecipher when living within the ebb and flow of a transformational epoch. Thefirst challenge is to detach oneself from fears associated with immediate changes.The second is to then name a wholesale ‘cultural fear of change’ out of existence.Postsecondary leaders must do the work to name the totality of our professional‘where is here’ fear. This action requires understanding of how worldview enjoinsus in a common belief system (cf. Valk and Bending, et. al., 2011). When equipped with knowledge of worldview it becomes apparent that allis not lost to postsecondary education. The fate of educators is not a negative,inevitable one. The future of postsecondary lies with the 21st century, not thepast or immediate present. Postsecondary education must continue to transform 3
  4. 4. itself by rethinking its foundational cornerstones. Those individuals who envisionthe end of education as institution and social activity are unaware the death knellis falsely sounded. The current sense of crisis in postsecondary is a socio-politicalphenomenon caused by the disintegration of a prevailing worldview. Fear cultureis the product of the uncertainty that ensues when a new worldview(s) is rising toascendency. Understanding this phenomenon and sharing knowledge of itscurrent presence is a key leadership role of postsecondary leaders. ‘Worldview’ is the point of view belonging to a language and itscorresponding acculturation: “Worldview can be expressed as the fundamentalcognitive, affective, and evaluative presuppositions a group of people make aboutthe nature of things, and which they use to order their lives” (Wikipedia).Language and acculturation determine how any one group perceives degree ofthreat or opportunity. Within a worldview paradigm it is improbable any personcan escape restriction on how and what to think and anticipate. The formation ofcognitive process, perceptual intelligence and language are not without bias. Wehave learned from quantum physics and chaos theory that observation can alterthe physical composition and behavior of what is observed. Similarly, Bakhtiniandialogism and semiotic theory demonstrate that the act of naming and languageitself are neither politically neutral nor perspectively unbiased. Naming is anexpression of power, ownership and control. Language informs perspective withbias for expectation, hope and fear. Worldviews are unavoidably locus bound and are therefore susceptible toincursive forces of ‘other’ cultures’ languages and worldviews. Shifts in globaleconomic power structures, intermingling of once isolated ‘other’ cultures, thepresence of others’ languages in foreign territories due to commerce and ease oftravel, and the social media impacts of the binary language logic of the WWW areobvious additional causes of worldview instability. Networking, inclusiveness andtolerance undermine the heterogeneity central to differentiated worldviews.Undifferentiated worldviews are seemingly impossible but contemporaryglocalism is making another kind of worldview probable, one without definitivephysical locus. 4
  5. 5. We are approaching the possibility of acculturation within the milieu of theWWW. Web networks are nourishing the establishment of social contracts builtacross geographical borders. Self-selecting memberships are utilizing WWWetiquette and social/technical languages that create collective purposing andsocial commitments defining both the present, and a possible future. Withinthese groupings are the rudiments of new, voluntary social contracts. Micro-worldviews or Web worldviews are multiplying challenges to traditional ones.Owners of these worldviews want their learning experiences to re-affirm sharedvalues, personal and political expectations. The owners of these worldviewspromote exclusivity and manage memberships. A stable worldview informs any groups’ ability to define a present realitythat is inclusive of individual differences. When a worldview is subject to externalassault or atrophy individuals are unable to form a collective definition of presentreality. They lose what affords them their individual sense of willful presencewithin the whole. This need for belonging and potential for self-fulfillment bynecessity gets transferred elsewhere. Worldview decline also presents peopleunable to interpret historical circumstances so as to formulate a potential orfigured tomorrow. This deficit is evident in some educators’ inability to agree onthe future for education. The ability to dream a collective utopia or formulate adialogue for a compelling futurology is also lost when worldview is in decline. Thepower of a dystopian vision takes hold and a fear culture is born. When worldviews run their course of holding teleological focus there isensuing conflict and finally transformation. Scholars working with worldviewhave not explored this area in relation to contemporary change epistemology. InLeo Apostel’s seminal definition of worldview there are six elements defining ametaphysical teleology for knowledge, epistemology and ontologicalapprehension: an explanation of the world, a futurology, apraxeology/methodology, an epistemology, and an etiology( Drawing from the work of Apostel, theattributes/elements of a worldview can be further explained to present a betterappreciation of the disintegration occurring in our present circumstances. 5
  6. 6. Worldview offers a creation story/myth for the whole world or theintentional portion of the figured ‘world.’ These creation myths can be biased bynationalisms, tales of limited origin, intentional manifestos, religious views,scientific doctrine, etc. Any worldview is a composite of these; one may dominate.The creation myth can also in/directly explain how knowledge came to exist: bylogical deduction, fate, divine ordinance, foreordination, luck, great-man theory,genius, research, the Word, etc. The creation story/myth provides a framenarrative for motivating a journey of self-discovery and a search for spiritualfulfillment, or denial thereof. Worldview provides sanction for appropriatequesting and inquiry. It defines what knowledge and lines of investigation are tobe considered ordinary, sacred or taboo. Worldview differentiates individuals by status and ascribes them socialvalue. Knowledge users are often segregated from those who manage and/ordiscover it. Worldviews celebrate seers and satirize buffoons in pageantry andcarnival. Though most often unrecognized, spectacle is one means to celebratethe ‘Ethical Imperative’ that defines a ‘Code of Conduct’ influencing decision-making. Worldview punishes intellectual and physical transgressions but does notreward ordinary compliance. When social order requires change, calls to action orrevolution are guided by a unifying belief in creation, immutable commitment toan absolute truth, and expectation for ethically motivated behaviour. Calls to action prefigure an ‘other’ with contrary, challenging or underminingpotentials. The other requires conversion, suppression or annihilation. Worldviewcausation is explained by what is known of the world. Interpretation of cause isinfluenced by the expectation for behaviour, action or interpretation confirmingthe prevailing knowledge and ontological paradigms. Cause and effect outcome isinterpreted to explain the rationale for an imminent future sustaining thepreviously accepted facts of existence. When a futurology challenges previouslyestablished fact, worldview is in decline and historical revisionism ensues.Expectation for the future is built upon entitlement prediction affirmed in 6
  7. 7. tradition. Finally, loss of worldview solidarity results in escalation of fear,suspicion, normalized social alienation, and pervasive threat anxieties. There is a correlation between rapidity of change eroding the prevailingworldview and the change fear culture that dominates the contemporary.Proponents of new attitudes to change like President Barack Obama speak ofhope, not acceptance of anomie. Obama recognizes that ordinary citizens arebereft of the opportunity to trust in leadership (as a whole). Throughacculturation these same people have previously witnessed the ‘murders’ of: God,the Author, Intention, Language, the University, Common Sense, etc., in thedeconstructive practices of postmodernists and their predecessors. All trust inauthority has been undermined; it has been challenged as being oppressive,unreliable or mythical. A wholesale loss of ‘truth’ is the foundation from whichour change fear culture is built. That loss reaches back to post-WWII nihilism andits advocacy of the scarcity of truth and assertion of isolation as the social norm. Change fear cultures are manifestations of an unconscious social struggle withthe gradual demise of the prevailing worldview. Their attributes are not merelynegative mirror images of worldviews. Fear creates varying social responsesbased on political, social, and religious entitlements and experiences. Whenworldview is collapsing there is evidence of a yearning for return to a world withfixed parameters of knowledge and unassailable authority. The rebirth of moralleadership takes hold. There is also a heightened desire for constancy, uniformity,and capacity for trust. There is growth in the structuring of new social orders using collaborationtools, partnerships, and social media, to achieve exclusive group-think andacculturation of membership at the intentional level. There are many false startsand failed experiments. Individuals denied the solidarity of a coherent worldviewmanifest a sense of social alienation and a corresponding engagement with faux,figured or virtual community memberships. There is a fondness for creatingartificial and trivial moments of group belonging to offset ordinary isolation andlocal alienation. Tolerance for inhibition and melodrama increases. Unwilling or 7
  8. 8. ready to commit to seeking universal truth, social medias mimic depth ofcharacter, thought and meaning in the shallows of indulgence and excess. Weakening worldviews present evidence of a search for principled life-purposewith a corresponding spiritual currency. Once fearful to re-engage practical livingguided by principles of spiritual meaning, citizens return to this faith via new agespirituality, animism, and intuition. Traditional religions see increasedparticipation, too. Excesses here are witnessed by the rise of prejudicedfundamentalisms. In the midst of a movement to embrace élan vital, we seeordinary citizens working to integrate virtual/fantasy identity with the corporealone. There remains a social delusion that the virtual can be a replacement for thespiritual dimensions of life. When forced to face the artificial nature of on-lineliving there is despondence and emptiness. A similar crisis occurs when peopleare forced to confront or obliged to reconcile fantasy or virtual identities withactual people. Disappointment that fantasy or expectation can’t control the reality of theworld is part of a craving for an increased sense of needing to be in control.Control can only occur within the company of like-minded individuals and isrelative, narrow. The desire to create refined and select communities is alsoexperienced in the workplace. Professionalization expectations are evolving morerapidly than professional development opportunities. Fear of professionalobsolescence is conjoint with loss of a sense of personal meaning and purpose.There is a rejection of individual capacity to maintain professional currency.Consequently, there is the need to define an oppositional other for purposes ofblame. Lament for imagined loss and figured responsible others is part of a yearningfor simplicity, surety and compliance. There is heightening frustration with theever-increasing complexity of ordinary problem solving. Often we find individualssharing a false assumption that a past ‘simple’ life was lived with the benefits ofcontemporary knowledge. Individuals choosing to live off-grid represent onevariation of the rebirth of the social contract as a principled mutual agreement ofindividuals, not between citizens and their governments. Choice empowerment 8
  9. 9. facilitates the expectation for the (Platonic) republican ability to decide whenliterally dialoguing together. Creating moments of votive control or facilitatingcollaborative decision-making are becoming social norms. Select groups workingtogether also share a belief that the scarcity of truth is not directly proportional tothe number of people sharing belief in it. Truth exists outside of majorityapproval. There is a rebirth of belief in absolutes, the incontrovertible, and theimmutable. Finally, there is emergence of sharing a belief that faith and hope arecentral ingredients for sustaining truth. With appreciation of change fear culture and its origins within a dyingworldview, postsecondary leaders can begin to address localized fear within theirorganizations. To name that fear, we must work intentionally and with purposewhen addressing the known and speculated future changes impacting teachingand learning. We must anticipate disagreement as to what change is necessary toadvance teaching and learning. Postsecondary leaders can utilize understandingof worldview when articulating what needs doing. When making changes we mustrespond to variegated learning customers’ unique expectations. Appreciate theirneed to feel ownership, control, and the importance of creating authenticopportunity for emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual growth. Addressing deficiencies created by worldview decline and capitalizing on theopportunities emerging with new ones necessitates that educators refine theirscope of economic engagement activities. Economic collapse ultimately meansforfeit of transformational potential. We must situate the present economiccircumstances in relation to historical practice and sustainability of learningcustomer relationships. New opportunities uniformly reflect the supremacy ofthe learning customer in the relationship economy. This assessment activity willrequire new knowledge management strategies reflecting invigorated attitudes toaccess and use of open source learning activities and credentials. Within thespectrum of economic engagement institutions must segment not only bypartnership but by ancillary business processes and student employmentopportunities. 9
  10. 10. Institutions with relevance and currency strategies will identify legacy systemsand impending obsolescence and implement adaptive performance measures.They will evolve service delivery mechanisms while reducing costs to learningcustomers. There will be focus on flexibility, adaptability and portability, driven byauthority, autonomy and accountability. Addressing resistance to utilization ofnew technologies means growing partnerships reflecting new social contractsbuilt by voluntary networks and social media. Institutions must open learningexperiences to collaborative enterprises wherein SMEs are part of team learningopportunities. All change must be grounded by the principle that a futurology isonly possible when envisioning as a group. The group must arrive at a collectiveunderstanding of current reality. This inclusiveness will sponsor innovation andcreativity, especially when using change opportunity as inspiration to traverseboundaries of conventional practice. Appreciation of worldview can enable postsecondary educators to adapt tothe sociological impacts of change within their organizations. Understanding thelarger cultural context will enable leaders to respond to the sense of fear andanxiety motivating uncertainty within their organizations. Creating a purposefulworking environment that addresses the anxieties arising from fear culture willengender an organizational advantage in the market place. Enabling employees toname the broader influences causing anxiety creates empowerment throughknowledge authority. The power arising from sharing a worldview that bringssocial coherence eliminates the effects of isolation supported by disbelief anddistrust. Employees working with a shared understanding of their present reality arebetter able to define a preferred future. Identifying with a future state that isinclusive of current employees will also offset fear of obsolescence. The sense ofcollegiality and community that arises facilitates a commitment to a purposebeyond just managing through difficult present circumstances. Innovationbecomes possible in the face of what would be otherwise an uncertain anddebilitating reality. Postsecondary leaders must facilitate the development of aworldview that revitalizes the role of instruction and reasserts the purpose of 10
  11. 11. learning institutions in the 21st century. A new social contract is possible betweenteachers and learning customers. It is the role of postsecondary leaders to assistin the articulation of what that social contract will be.Apostel (9 February 2011), Kevin. and Hill B. (2011) Higher Education in Tumultuous Times: ATransatlantic Dialogue on Facing Market Forces and Promoting the CommonGood, American Council on Education: 1-28.Valk, John. and Belding S., Crumpton A., Harter N., and Reams J. (2011)“Worldviews and Leadership: Thinking and Acting the Bigger Pictures,” Journal ofLeadership Studies, 5.2:54-63.Worldview (9 February 2012) 11