I….Once Had a Group…or Should I Say, It Once Had Me: A Harvard Final Paper

Posted in Uncategorized on November 10, 2011 by fractalbridge

Meaning Making in Interdisciplinary Teacher Teams:
A Constructive-Developmental View

Scott Hannon
T006: Adult Development
Professor Bob Kegan
Harvard Graduate School of Education
May 5, 2011

“I…once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.”
~The Beatles
“I…once had a group, or should I say, it once had me.”

I’ve always been fascinated by groups. When I was five, my parents chose to divorce, and while I remember some loneliness associated with going for long stretches without seeing my dad, when I put my head on my pillow at night my mind tended to ponder how the ‘whole’ of my family was made up smaller, individual ‘parts’. Everything in life seemed to be made up of smaller parts. And I wanted to be one of the people who put the parts together. I remember how much my sister and I fell in love with The Parent Trap, a film that features two identical girl twins, who trick their parents into re-marrying. While my sister and I were not successful in that venture, a curiosity about the intertwining relationship between the individual and the group continued throughout my life.

This curiosity contributed to my being a member of various communities, choosing teaching and counseling as a career, and studying the psychology of groups. I taught almost every subject at the high school level and even some subjects at the college level. I was a school counselor, head of a Social Studies department, and a director of a school. I studied emotional intelligence, conflict resolution and transformative education. After a 20-year career in education, I discovered that I’d accidentally become quite knowledgeable about how all the subjects interconnect; I’d become an inter-disciplinarian.
A few years ago, I was accepted into a doctorate program in Interdisciplinary Studies at Columbia Teachers College, where I specialized in interdisciplinary teacher teams and eventually led professional development groups for teachers. I’m stimulated by the way a group of people from differing backgrounds and disciplines can come together to become a “better whole”, and perhaps help improve kids’ lives. I never did get my parents to re-marry; I never did put those pieces together. But in the process I’ve become a different kind of minister—a minister in “marrying” diverse groups of teachers.

A key element of the curriculum reform movement is understanding that existing disciplinary divisions contribute to the fragmentation of the school day for students and teachers alike. This understanding led to the growth of improved interdisciplinary curricula, a movement that by some estimates has affected nearly two-thirds of American schools (Grossman et. al., 2000). Experts on the challenges and problems of our world remind us that solutions are best solved not from a single disciplinary perspective but from many perspectives. For the sake of improving education, experts of different disciplines must learn to work better together. In an increasingly diverse and complex world, the need to work effectively in groups and to share knowledge between groups is greater than ever. Collaborative work often produces more stunning results than any one individual could create on his or her own, and yet so many high schools, colleges, and universities have many extraordinarily gifted people operating in relative isolation from each other (Kegan, 2000).

Soon after being accepted into the Interdisciplinary Studies doctoral program at Columbia Teachers College, I started facilitating workshops to help teachers develop highly integrated interdisciplinary curricula, while at the same time fostering a sense of collaborative teamwork, partnership, and community. I met with a high degree of success in most schools. But one group of teachers stood out to me and led to an experience that forever altered the way I viewed interdisciplinary groups. I learned from interdisciplinary work more than I ever expected about the complexity of the human mind and the impact that complexity has on interdisciplinary collaboration itself.

One of the keys to my insights was aided by the powerful theory of Constructive-Developmentalism. Constructivism is a powerful perspective relevant to many different disciplines, including Psychology, Sociology, Philosophy, Literary Criticism, Anthropology, and Theology. Central to the constructivist perspective is the concept that our minds assimilate enormous amounts of data and function as meaning-making machines. While it might be a stretch of the imagination, interdisciplinary teams of teachers function in much the same way: the purpose of most interdisciplinary groups is to draw from many different disciplines and construct new and useful curricular meaning and knowledge. In this sense, interdisciplinary groups serve as a kind of a “curricular mind” for the entire school.

The question or summary statement that drives this paper is:

How does the dialogue (data) within interdisciplinary teacher working groups (context), when viewed through the lens of constructive-developmental theory, help to illuminate the way teachers make meaning out of interdisciplinary curriculum, and what are the implications for understanding an interdisciplinary groups collective way of knowing?
Note of Clarification:
I’m aware of the difference between looking for structural coherence in an individual’s order of mind by analyzing therapy or a speech and doing so through the lens of data gathered from discussion within an interdisciplinary teaching team. However, given the increasing importance placed on interdisciplinary methodologies and how these groups tend to discuss both their career contexts and the familial patterns that contribute to their meaning making, I think it’s ripe for analysis. I’m aware that many complex variables are at play, such as an individual’s relationship with her discipline, her inclination to be more extroverted or introverted, and the unique way a group influences her way of interacting.

Megan the Math Teacher: A 3rd-Order Perspective of Disciplinary Teams: Multi-DisciplinaryMegan was a recently-trained Math teacher who was rushed through a fellowship program designed to fill the need for Math teachers in the public schools. She taught in the day and attended Masters classes in the afternoon and early evening. Megan reacted frequently to comments made in the group with laughs and sarcastic rolls of her eyes, with comments like “I don’t know about this group. I don’t always want to be here, but I guess that’s what the director wants.” She frequently complained about the time this group took away from her graduate school responsibilities. Her experience of the demands made on her by the school paralleled the way she thought about the demands made on their high school students. Her comment, “I guess my dad was a Math geek so I’m next in line”, implied she was to some degree socialized into her discipline, subject to the loyalties and traditions in her family. Her comment, “I think Math gets lost in the interdisciplinary groups,” reminded me of an explanation in class of the beaker and water-level analysis with little Stephen. Throughout the semester, Megan almost always deferred to others when creating interdisciplinary curriculum, suggesting around the 3rd-order structuring associated with a lack of self-authoring, and dependency on others.

Demonstrating a metaphor used in Kegan’s lecture on Adult Development, Megan showed a capacity to drive the “automatic car” of her own discipline, but in the context of cross-disciplinary planning, her “driving a stick-shift” skill-set was limited. Megan’s ability to work abstractly was limited. In a discussion about an interdisciplinary unit on environmental destruction, Megan proposed the idea of holding a mock rainforest convention with the mission of reducing environmental destruction and global warming. For the Math component of this curriculum, she suggested the kids play the role of a “Math specialist”, who offers data on the size and rate of destruction. On one hand, her suggestion was a valid contribution; however, it was a relatively linear, limited suggestion for this interdisciplinary team. Taken in conjunction with her quote, “Let’s get some Math in this convention—the kids need all they can get in this competitive world,” the other teachers felt that Megan had a limited perspective of the potential for this interdisciplinary unit. Specifically, the group rejected this idea because they “felt the disciplines should be blended together more rather than representatives of each subject reporting”. The way Megan thought about curriculum structure for this group demonstrated something closer to a “multi-disciplinary” perspective, which holds disciplines like separate food choices at a buffet rather than an inter-disciplinary blending together of food items. Multi-disciplinary perspectives usually lack a cross-categorical or cross-disciplinary element. And, since the multi-disciplinary perspective does not encourage much comparing and contrasting of disciplines, the value structures associated with other disciplines tend to remain static. In such groups that frame themselves around multi-disciplinary models, disciplines different from a teacher’s specialty tend to stay “subject” to him or her. In this sense, multi-disciplinary groups operate in a kind of third order of mind. Megan’s multi-disciplinary curriculum approach was oriented—whether she was aware of it or not—toward students gaining more information, and her priority was more about students gaining in-formation than trans-formation.

One of the more creative questions I asked the group was to visually illustrate their perspective of the nature and purpose of our interdisciplinary group. Megan drew many circles, which themselves made up a circle; the center of her drawing (perhaps loosely analogous to “epistomological center of gravity) of her drawing did not land in any of the circles themselves. Other teachers drew overlapping Venn diagrams, implying that the teachers were there to discover and share in the meaning making of overlapping themes in their disciplines.

Megan expressed anxiety during some planning meetings. In private discussions, she shared that she feared being perceived as “less intelligent” than the other teachers and that she feared saying something wrong. She frequently deferred to the older and more experienced members of her team, especially her Math department head. Because I did not know of its existence at the time, I did not walk Megan or any of the teachers through the Immunity to Change process (Kegan, 2009). However, I could imagine, from what I observed with Megan, that one of her hidden commitments would be to “not be seen as wrong or unintelligent by others,” and that one of her big assumptions would be “if I say something wrong I will be seen as less valuable in the group.” Megan seemed torn and conflicted when other teachers disagreed with her. While there were tensions in the group relating to whose ideas ultimately would get accepted, the tension of the group seemed to incapacitate her, while other teachers were more at ease with the tension. Megan seemed to bounce back and forth between “Part of me does not care about this group” and “I should care more, should think more, be more a part of this team”. There was a sense in which, to use one of Kegan’s metaphors, Megan seemed to have “one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake” (Kegan, lecture), implying a third-order way of making meaning in the group. Object to Megan was her personal need and preference; she was shaped by what she perceived to be the expectation of the group. The collective consciousness of the group appeared to be subject to her.

Another highly revealing moment was when the group was fairly deeply engaged in an interdisciplinary discussion oriented around identifying broad process themes that were relevant to many different disciplines. We were exploring the process theme “vicious cycle”. In History, a vicious cycle might envelop two parties in a conflict, whereupon the parties threaten and escalate aggression. In Science, the vicious cycle might be used to model the way cancerous cells grow out of control. It was challenging for Megan to be imaginative with her Mathematics contribution. In constructive-developmental theory terms, she struggled with understanding and working with the “edges of her own disciplinary meaning-making”. In fact, Megan was visibly agitated at times. While she momentarily suggested “like the spiral of water as it goes down the drain?”, she hesitated to engage more fully or to bring enthusiasm about her idea to the group. Megan’s focus was on demonstrating what she knew solidly and disguising the nature of what she did not know.

I imagine how this group might approach an interdisciplinary unit by deploying the image used in a lecture in Kegan’s Adult Development lectures: a cylinder with a metal ball in the middle. Given the diagnosis so far of Megan’s approach to inter-disciplinary planning and her preference for the literal over the abstract, Megan might make links through Literature, via a story about how a cylinder is found by a character, or how a cylindrical shape might be used in the context of a telescope as part of an “Age of Exploration” unit in a Social Studies class. Such a literal approach would be more object to Megan, whereas using a more abstract, metaphorical interpretation of the cylinder, as referred to in lecture, would most likely be more subject to her. The degree to which she was able to stretch her mind without being overwhelmed by anxiety might suggest how far along the 3-to-4 continuum she was with respect to the complexity of her interdisciplinary thinking. Megan often understood what a higher-order teacher was saying, but she did not seem to fully get where this teacher was saying it from, in terms of his or her meaning structure.

Many interdisciplinary projects and units are assessed by teachers. When assessment possibilities arose in conversation, Megan suggested more narrow assessments, which other teachers felt were “like standardized tests”. Most of the teachers of this group viewed standardized tests as having a very limited capacity to accurately measure student progress and saw the “standardized test mindset” as being even less appropriate for measuring student progress within the context of interdisciplinary units. The reason they gave: the boundaries of the disciplines are blurred and demand more creative forms of assessment.

Chris the Literature Teacher: A 4th-Order Perspective on Disciplinary Teams: InterdisciplinaryChris was a Literature teacher for many years before our group began. He firmly grasped the concept behind interdisciplinary methodology, having both a detailed understanding of his subject and a strong sense for how it overlapped with other subjects. I learned in the preliminary meetings that he came to teaching Literature/Language Arts out of an authentic love of the discipline. He had not been subject to the socialized desires and pressures of family members or others in his surroundings as he progressed through his career. He did not see working across disciplinary lines as “taking away anything from his discipline”. He was at ease with “changing conversational gears” within the group. Chris was self-authoring in his approach to working with the group. He demonstrated a capacity for complex meaning-making with respect to overlapping interdisciplinary themes and was key in constructing and playing an authoring role with the interdisciplinary curriculum. In moments when other teachers deferred to the authority of the heads of their departments, Chris’s relationship with his department head and his speaking patterns suggested an equal status. He would say things to his department head like, “Let’s think this through together.”
When asked what he thought was the goal of interdisciplinary curriculum planning, he said “to tease out themes broadly connected to many disciplines so that teachers can explore with kids the way they approach many subjects.” His use of the word “way” implied a method of framing interdisciplinary thinking that demonstrated Chris’s understanding that knowledge is constructed and that how students know a body of knowledge is as important, or more important, than what they know. Chris also said “…in finding overlapping themes between subjects, kids will have a broader look, which is necessary in this flat world…they can link arms together and not be so overwhelmed…”, which highlights his understanding of the connection between student work and the real world. His use of the term “flat world” probably is a reference to Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat (even if Chris was not aware that the popular use of the term links to Friedman) and is analogous to Kegan’s use of the term “modern world” in the context of a 4th-order, modern world mindset.

When asked about how they visually conceptualized the group, Chris drew a Venn diagram, with the intersection being the central overlap of all the disciplines, implying his fundamental emphasis on inter-connection and the inter-disciplinary. His use of the words “yes” and “no” were fluidly interchangeable, depending on the circumstances. He once said “we are not doing this [interdisciplinary planning] in a linear fashion,” which suggested his awareness of interdisciplinary work occurring in a more complex and dynamic context. This way of seeing the group was also evident in how he settled disputes; he had numerous differences of opinion with group members, but the conflicts themselves did not “have him”. He was able to quickly and smoothly transition from being mildly aggravated to focusing in on how to synthesize his viewpoints with the broader interdisciplinary tapestry of the group. For example, he once said “…I’m frustrated, what I want to say is…I want you to see that we can use this portion of it (a quote) in the lesson…” Here, his frustration was more connected to his own struggle to communicate his sense of passion about a complex concept as opposed to the flavor of frustration that arises when someone is irritated by the style or tone of voice of a fellow teacher. Chris held, or “had his thumb around” the tension in the group: the group did not hold him or have him “thumbed down”.

At times, Chris mentioned the director’s and district’s wishes for teachers to participate in this professional development, but was not made up by these wishes. He was able to self-author his own view, which incorporated both: “They probably see that we can get more creative and curious about interconnections of our subjects…we will be better teachers for it”. He neither resisted nor overly submitted to the view or mood of the director, or even the other teachers; rather, he was “in relationship” with the mood of the group. His 4th-order-ness also revealed itself when he said, to the chuckle of the group, “…it’s not like we have to all agree or love each other”, which implied that ultimately he was the one choosing his relationship to the group, as opposed to his relationship “choosing him”.

When asked to identify interdisciplinary themes, Chris’s suggestions were: “Truth, Honesty, Courage, Loyalty, Freedom, and Wisdom”. When I had the thought experiment of Chris being presented with Kegan’s geometric image of a cylinder (lecture) as a potential theme, I imagined Chris suggesting the terms “Balance” or “Equality”, or similar abstract nouns that appropriately correspond to the cylinder image. These abstract nouns routinely appear in, and are frequently considered part of, the Literature and Language Arts curriculum. While Chris had a bias toward themes which appear more commonly in Literature and Language Arts, these terms are curricularly correlated with other disciplines like Social Studies, and so have “high interdisciplinary potential”. However, it is not so easy to relate these themes to the Science and Mathematics curricula. Kegan writes that the 4th order “coheres by its alignment with its own belief structure/ideology/personal code…” (Kegan, 1994). When I replace “structure” and “ideology” with “discipline”, my conclusion is that Chris has a more 4th-order orientation with respect to the way he makes meaning of interdisciplinary themes. Kegan (1994) calls a more 5th-order mindset “…attempting to reintegrate systems according to a new, larger principle which includes evaluating the various ideological components and reconstructing them in a new, more complex way.” From that standpoint, 5th-order thinking about disciplinary themes are broad or “large-principled” enough to include the subjects of Science and Math. Examples of such interdisciplinary themes are process themes (change, cycles, oscillation, reframing). Broad-process themes allow space for a wider range of subject areas since they are themes which emerge in almost every area of life. A 5th-order teacher would probably favor these themes and probably have the complexity of mind to “hold” them. A 5th-order teacher would have the facility to help students apply these process themes to their lives within an interdisciplinary unit. Chris said, “It’s not about the words themselves…it’s not about the stuff…I know that.” In his 4th-order-ness, he recognized that interdisciplinary methodologies are not so much about in-formation. But Chris did not take his sentence further. He did not know where to go from there. Everything beyond that seemed subject to him. He fell short of being able to elucidate the potential in these process themes for trans-formation, for which process themes like “re-frame” are ideally suited.

When the subject of assessment came up, Chris considered possibilities that Megan could not. He said “we need a wider range of assessments to reflect the wider range of ways we have of thinking about the crossover of different disciplines.” This comment hovered in the range of 4th-order complexity, in that it embodied a seat of judgment and a sense of personal authority. The fact that he hinted at broader systems may even suggest a movement past 4th order, but since he did not bring into question the notion of assessment at all, a valid perspective according to some educational philosophies, he fell short of structuring his interdisciplinary meaning-making from the 5th order.

Chris, in his 4th-order way of structuring, fully embraced the context of “your discipline and mine”. But I wonder how he would respond to the possibility that “your discipline is mine,” a perspective more commonly held by a teacher like Laurie the Psychology teacher.

Laurie the Psychology Teacher: A 4/5th Order Perspective on Disciplinary Teams: Trans-DisciplinaryLaurie was a veteran teacher in her 50s who used to teach Social Studies (History, Civics, Global Studies, and Diversity Studies) and now teaches an AP Psychology class mainly for high school seniors. Laurie regularly and successfully authored curriculum from her own discipline and co-authored some of the interdisciplinary curriculum in the group. While she had the capacity to focus on the specific content of her discipline, her way of being when she taught resonated more closely with questions related to how kids know what they know. Laurie felt more like my partner in providing interdisciplinary professional development. When asked to visually represent the “epistemological center of gravity” of the group, she gently cautioned about the conceptual limitations of any two-dimensional drawing, making reference to 3-dimensional metaphors and even complex, multi-dimensional fractals: “The visual I have in mind transcends the notion of subjects while still including them, kind of a Ken Wilbur idea.” One of the most intriguing aspects of Laurie’s way of being with other teachers was that, while she used the words “yes” and “no” from time to time, her language patterns, for the most part, transcended the duality of yes and no. She often responded with the acknowledging sound of “Mmmmmmm”. She intuitively sensed that the words “yes” and “no” were embedded in the context of the binary and the polar. According to Kegan (1994), “The fifth order self coheres through its ability to distinguish internal consistency from wholeness or completeness; its alignment is with the dialectic rather than either pole.” Laurie frequently asked questions of the other teachers, such as “how so?” These and other questions by Laurie served as the foundation of subject-object interviews used to diagnose the structural coherence in the interviewee’s way of knowing. Laurie encouraged the group to celebrate their differences, one of the characteristics identified by Kegan as a feature of post-4th-order structuring.

One of Laurie’s more extraordinary quotes was:
We have an opportunity to transcend the very notion of separate disciplines so that our kids have the chance to gain access to something deeper about the very nature of life…our kids’ lives do not happen to them in disciplinary silos…let’s open up a space or clearing for them, rather than continually expecting them to manufacture answers.

Laurie saw similarity where most perceived difference. When asked about the purpose of our group, she said that it was “an opportunity for a growth process would allow teachers to gain insight into their students lives.” Her language expanded our view of the purpose of our meetings. Any teacher, no matter their order of mind, could “find” themselves in that purpose. When tensions arose in the group, she did not react to them or feel torn by them. She did not even seem to need to “hold the tension” in a 4th-order way. Rather, she smiled and said that she “instinctually trusted that something larger than us all would hold it”.

She shared her view of assessment: “It is important to me that we co-create the assessment with the students so that it is a learning activity we share together.” She was more interested in inquiring as a group into what it means to have assessment in an interdisciplinary context than to actually act on assessing the students.

Laurie embraced broad interdisciplinary process themes like oscillation, cycle, and frame/reframe. Then one day, she said something that I think went over the heads of many in the group:
At some point the themes drop away altogether and it becomes about facilitating a process of students grappling with their experience of how they make assertions and conclusions. Here we are questioning the very way we talk in class about disciplines…

Laurie transcended the notion of trying to make something out of the group or to “get somewhere” with the group. She did not feel an impulse to get somewhere, and felt comfortable playing at the edges of her craft like Andrew Goldworthy in the extraordinary film Rivers and Tides. Like the playful creativity of Goldworthy, Laurie acknowledged the limitations of disciplines. But she even challenged the inter-disciplinary theme of our professional development group. Laurie was able to think from the context of there actually being no separate disciplines at all. Rather than a pre-3rd-order “your discipline or my discipline” or a 4th-order “your discipline and my discipline” she embraced a more 5th-order tendency to find similarities across different systems: “Your discipline is my discipline”. She stood for transforming our very notion of disciplines; she stood for a “trans-disciplinary” context.

Laurie loved visual metaphors and would have been excited by the idea of using the cylinder as an access to a trans-disciplinary lesson with students. I saw her demonstrate her understanding of abstract metaphors. She would understand that the notion of the “opening” of the cylinder arises out of the act of speech, and that we, with our ability to construct meaning, are the ones who call into being or create these opening to be openings. As with the three umpires described in Kegan’s lecture, “those openings ain’t nothin’ till we calls ’em”.

Laurie felt that a truly trans-disciplinary curriculum would focus on the “verb” of human being rather than the “noun” of human being:
I want to get right up close and look at the ‘being of human being’ with kids, creating a quality of learning that is not so much conceptual as experiential. I want to help create a clearing for the students to discover and create themselves in the moment, to create their own ‘curriculum of the moment’ for themselves. I want their sense of a class or group to, in a sense, fall away in exchange for pure learning moments.

I chuckled as I imagined an odd variation on a Beatles song: “I…once had a group…or should I say, it once had me”. Or, perhaps more accurately, “something larger had both me and it”.

Implications for 4/5th Order Post-Modern Interdisciplinary Teacher Teams
Admittedly, looking for coherence of order-of-mind through the data of dialogue within interdisciplinary teams is different than working with speech or a therapy session. The constructive-developmental lens is a valid way to explore how these groups make meaning and how they can improve in the future.

What would 4/5th-order interdisciplinary groups look like? Would a group such as this have a ‘self’? To what extent does it make sense to think about two selves—the collection of “individual within the group” selves, and the “group” self (Kegan, 2000)? How might these two selves be in dialogue with each other and how might they shape each other (Kegan, 2000)? According to Kegan (2000):
The leap we need in the next century is a way of bringing these kinds of knowledge together. It’s not that you just have individual sources of action who then sometimes clump together in groups. Nor is it the case that the group itself is the sole overriding definer of reality. You have to keep in mind that there are individuals, each making their own sense of that system. This goes back to the idea…that the way in which we’ve created these knowledge silos–these independent, non-communicating knowledge sources–has left us with a very fragmented way of thinking about the complexities of persons living in groups. If we can find ways to really reach out, draw hands across these different ways of thinking, we’ll come to some much richer sense of the way each hand washes the other, the way in which each of these systemic sources of action, the individual and the group, are each conditioning and conditioned by the other.

Let’s apply Kegan’s quote to our three teachers. Suppose the group was just made up of the three individuals outlined in this paper. If Megan has 3rd-ish order structuring, Chris has 4ish-order structuring, Laurie has 4/5ish-order structuring, and the “group self” has (very hypothetically) a coherent structuring around the 4th order, how do we account for the possibility that the “individual selves” and the “group self” might interact with each other in highly complex and unpredictable ways? In Kegan’s language, how do we take into consideration that within that group there are also individuals who themselves are sources of action (Kegan, 2000)? Megan, in some circumstances, may “drag the group order down” proportionally more than one might intuit, or perhaps in some circumstances, Laurie might “lift the group up” proportionally more than one might expect. How might we create complexity models that capture the collective influence of these various “order-of-mind-influences” on the group as a whole?

What would it mean to bring a group together that consistently examines the boundaries of the meaning systems of each of its disciplines and then mediates among them? How much could we count on a group like this to distinguish themes that fall outside the traditional interpretations of the disciplines and synthesize them into something more “trans-disciplinary”? How do we maximize the chance that such groups develop a greater sense of community—to actually meet on their own for coffee—and perhaps create more transformative curricula than current school reformers and leaders could ever wish for? How could we maximize the chance that these groups would become more self-guided, self-motivated, self-evaluative working groups that could anticipate the direction of, and anticipate the needs of, the modern world? How might we foster the emergence of groups that actively seek to understand and even collaborate with other highly conscious and high-functioning interdisciplinary communities of teachers around the world? How might we empower the emergence of interdisciplinary groups that see the world’s children as everyone’s children, a kind of interdisciplinary group that operates in the general neighborhood of the Gandhi or Martin Luther King order-of-consciousness?

Before disappearing into the dreamy world of high idealism, it is important to acknowledge a certain paradox. The “best” interdisciplinary group is not so much based on how many teachers within it operate at higher orders of mind; rather, what is important is the closeness of fit between how they construct interdisciplinary curriculum and the specific kids they serve. Perhaps the “best” interdisciplinary team would have members who are themselves differentiated with respect to their orders of mind in such a way that they meet the largest number of kids where those kids are at, developmentally. In that sense, the team must be both “inter-disciplinary” and “inter-order-of-mind”.

Finally, let us not fall into the trap of assuming that interdisciplinary methodologies are the silver bullet for reforming education. Let us not ourselves fall into the “polarity problem” that interdisciplinary fields and disciplinary fields exist within an either/or polarity or duality with each other. There will always be a need for both interdisciplinary and disciplinary perspectives; the challenge is to synthesize them into a more expansive whole (Kegan, 2000).


Grossman, P., Wineberg, S. (2001). Toward a theory of teacher community. Teachers College Record, 103, 942-1012.
Kegan, R. and Lahey, L.L. (2009). Immunity to Change, Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Kegan, R. (1994). In Over our Heads, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Scharmer, Claus Otto (2000), Grabbing the Tiger by the Tail: A Conversation with Robert Kegan: Harvard Gradute School of Education.


My Academic Retreat in Cambridge Massachusetts

Posted in Uncategorized on October 21, 2010 by fractalbridge

I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the home of Harvard University. Sometimes I can’t believe my home, what feels like an academic retreat, happens to be in one of the most beautiful towns in the world. It’s as if I’m living in an “Academic Bed and Breakfast.”

The best way to explain what it’s like is to actually SHOW it. The photos start from 4 blocks west of my home and move steadily closer until they are actually IN my place!)

First comes the famed western Harvard Yard, just 4 blocks from my home. Notice it’s fall folliage time!

Harvard Students

3 Blocks Away: Harvard Yard at Dusk

Family in Harvard Yard

Memorial Church

Widener Library


Grafton's Pub on the Right


3 Blocks Away: Cafe on Side Street

2 Blocks Away: Faculty House

Two Blocks Away: Sanders Hall

View from my window!

Market 1 block from my home (with salad bar and wine tasting!)

Cafe 1 block from my home

Desk and Couches


Extremely comfortable bed


So there you have it, thanks for viewing!


Posted in Uncategorized on September 3, 2010 by fractalbridge

Maybe it’s because I’m a Libra.

Maybe it’s because I love group learning, group dynamics, working cooperatively, Salon gatherings and creating effective community. Maybe it’s because I love film and using film for group learning and transformative purposes. Maybe it’s because I have so many friends in the SF Bay Area who teach yoga or lead workshops about finding balance.

Whatever the reason(s), I was deeply struck by a short award-winning film titled Balance that we watched today in my Masters course titled “Group Learning.”

Go ahead and watch it now and/or come back and watch it when you finish reading:

The class had many parts. Here is an over-simplification. Professor Daniel Wilson facilitated an in-depth discussion about three articles describing different group/community dynamics and discussing what worked and what did not work. Then we transitioned into…you guessed it…groups…where we discussed these articles and did small group presentations about the dynamics of certain groups. One of the foci of the presentations was “What factors contribute to effective ‘groupness’ and what factors take away from it?”

Many of the responses after this video related to how the film related to the readings we had, our cohort groups, and even the groups we formed to give the presentations. We discussed when a group of community starts to go “downhill” and lose it’s “group-ness.” After class we informally related the film to the fundamental drama and dilemma of humanity, how power and selfishness can corrupt, and even related the the film to the well-known parable of the difference between heaven and hell (having super long chopsticks and feeding each other rather than feeding ourselves!).

The video is on one hand quite haunting and on the other hand deeply inspirational.

I hope you like it!

**I should also add that a friend of our professor, a Japanese man who graduated from our program 20 years ago, visited for the day and took video and photos of our class! By the end of the class he had already created and edited a 5-minute I-Photo video of our the class we had just completed! He showed the the video–complete with music in the background–in the last few minutes of class and left us with our jaws dropped and some tears in our eyes!

Four Special Cafes in the SF Mission

Posted in Uncategorized on March 3, 2010 by fractalbridge

I think it’s only fair that since I did a blog on the “hidden” Grand Street in Williamsburg, NY with many of it’s establishments, that I do a blog about something similar in my home of the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m currently in a short term sublet in Potrero Hill and I regularly roll down that hill into the more crowded and happening Mission district.

One of people’s favorite parts of the city, the Mission is known for it’s amazing Mexican food.

And, of course, it’s coffee.

In the past 16 days I’ve walked, ran and driven through the neighborhood many times now and been quite intrigued with a few cafes in the area. I grew up in Berkeley and now live in Brooklyn, so I’ve seen some of the world’s best cafes. But I’ve discovered four cafes in the Mission that really stand out, and in completely different ways. I’ll share them in the order I discovered them.

1. First is a cafe called Philz Coffee on 24th Street at about Harrison. There are a few different locations.
Here is the website: http://www.philzcoffee.com/index.html.
Here is a YouTube video (be sure to watch the description of “Ambrosia” coffee at 1:09!):

This cafe is truly unique, about as unique as my friend Kirsten Fletcher who introduced it to me on my third day back in the Bay Area. It’s difficult to decide on all of the interesteing flavors. The interior is beautiful, just like the murals right outside the door. I highly recommend it!

2. The second is a cafe suspiciously across the street from Starbucks and a branch of UCSF on the corner of Florida and Mariposa (actual accress is 1890 Bryant) called Coffee Bar.

Here is an image I like that captures some of the spirit of that part of Potrero Hill-meets-Mission:

Coffee Bar

I know, you’re probably thinking “what a boring name!” Well, maybe so, but the inside of this place is not boring at all. You walk through an old gate, then a ramp, then into a gorgeous art filled space with every seat filled with Missioners, some of them working away on their computers and some chatting.
Here is the website: http://www.coffeebar-usa.com/HOME.html

3. The third cafe I stumbled upon is more like a coffee bar. It is called Rodger’s Coffee and Tea at 3520a 20th Street at between Valencia and Mission. This smaller and unassuming cafe had a great interior, a wonderful smell, and some interesting people hanging out. It’s housed in a warehouse space with lettering from the 60’s that say something like “Cannery” with those big 60’s metal letters. They sport “The Original One Cup at a Time Free Coffee Card” which is exciting, because the way they work it is that you get the first cup on them, buy the next eight, and enjoy your tenth cup free!

Here is a photo, and I don’t know if this is Rodger or not (there is actually a video of Phil himself of Philz on YouTube):

Rodger's Coffee

A review I found expressed this: “This is one of the best cups of coffee you’ll get anywhere in the Mission, or in the city for that matter. And it comes without the attitude, which is saying a lot (ahem, Ritual Roasters and Blue Bottle). For those who are seriously into strong brewed coffee, I highly recommend the Fog Lifter or the Turkish. They also have fresh basked treats. My personal favorite is the bread pudding! Yum! Looking for a real coffee experience? Tired of posers? This is the place. But shhhh don’t tell anyone, the San Francisco Coffee police will probably come shut them down if they find out that someone has dared to serve great coffee without hipsters or attitude – and in the Mission of all places.”

4. Last, but not least (although certainly the least square footage) is Ka’fe 99 Sq Ft. It is at 3150 18th Street between Treat and Folsom. Oh my goodness this place is small. I don’t think there are any chairs…maybe one stool or something. They say “Need a break?” (Yes!) “We are there for you! Thank you for supporting our tiny adventure in your neighborhood!”

I could not find any photos online, probably because Ka’fe 99 Sq Ft is too small to show up in photographs.

I told two employees how much I loved the place and they let out a squeal of enthusiasm that filled the entire place.

Here is an opinion expressed in an online review:
I stumbled upon my Deliscious smooth earthy espresso because the rain had just flooded the cafe I was heading to… what a great little corner cafe. Could be found in the village or the left bank of Paris. 2 chairs outside (the rain had stopped). A teeny salon next door. This is one of the reasons I live in sf. The 99 sq inch cafe is my newest favorite find!”

I hate to say it, but I think East Village and Brooklyn might be lagging behind in the coffee shop department compared to the Mission in San Francisco!

Well, that’s it for now. Feel free to add your comments and/or to let me/us know about some of the other best cafes and coffee bars in the Mission district or even in the Bay Area.

Transformative Learning in the Ivory Tower!

Posted in Uncategorized on February 1, 2010 by fractalbridge

For way too long there has been a split between the traditional courses of universities and the non-traditional, transformative workshops that are popping up all over the world, especially in places like the SF Bay Area. A bridge is being built between them in the form of universities like California Institute of Integral Studies. However, transformative education has been looked down upon, or at least been perceived with cynicism and suspect, by traditional Ivory Tower schools like Columbia, Stanford and Harvard Universities. But now it seems that the traditional world is catching on, realizing this is where the future is, and the incredible power of the transformational curriculum is showing up on traditional programs.

Here is the best example I’ve seen so far. I intend to take this course with the intention of teaching a similar course at my own education center in NY and SF Bay. To me it is one of the most important bridges that is needed in education at this time!

ORLD 4828

Imagination, Authenticity, Individuation, and Transformative Learning

Facilitated by Patricia Cranton


The theory of transformative learning has developed over three decades into a comprehensive and complex description of how learners construe, validate, and reformulate the meaning of their experiences. The impact of transformative learning on the theory and practice of adult education is recognized by all scholars in the field.

Traditional transformative learning theory, as developed by Jack Mezirow, relies heavily on learning as an individual, cognitive process. Though Mezirow does acknowledge the role of intuition, imagination, and affect in the process, they are not central to his theory. Also, Mezirow recognizes the importance of social change as a goal of adult education, but he sees his focus as being on the individual learner. He suggests that it is the educator’s job to help individuals get to a place where they can work toward social change, but it is not the educator’s goal to address social change directly.

Transformative learning scholars have expanded and elaborated on traditional transformative learning in a variety of ways. Many new works have appeared in recent years, emphasizing more imaginative and intuitive approaches to transformative learning theory (see the reference list). In this course, Transformative Learning: Imagination, Authenticity, and Individuation, I we can review the traditional theory and then turn to an in-depth exploration of the more recent developments in the field.

Tentative Topics and Time Frame

Introductions (Jan 20 to Jan 27)
Traditional Transformative Learning Theory (readings from reading list) (Jan 27 to Feb. 3)
Transformative Learning: Multiple Ways of Knowing (Chapter 2, text) (Feb. 3 to Feb 17)
Intuition, Imagination, and Affect (readings from reading list) (Feb. 17 to March 3)
Planning the remainder of the topics (March 3 to March 10)
Remaining topics to be decided based on planning session.
Text and Readings

The text for the course is:

Hoggan, C., Simpson, S., & Stuckey, H. (2009). Creative expression in tranformative learning: Tools and techniques for educators of adults. Malabar FL: Krieger.

Additional readings will be available online as we go.

Learning Projects

Participants who are taking this course for three credits will be asked to engage in a learning project in addition to their participation in the course discussions.

The choice for the content and format of learning projects is completely open. Here are some things that people have chosen to do in other transformative learning courses:

a short story illustrating transformative learning
an autobiography or life story related to your transformative experiences
a poem
a painting, photograph collage, or drawing
a review of a book or article on transformative learning
an integrative essay on various perspectives on transformative learning
a CD of music selections representing a transformative journey
a reflective journal

Howard Gardner Interviews Jeffrey Sachs

Posted in Uncategorized on December 4, 2009 by fractalbridge

Recently I had a double take when I learned that Howard Gardner, the famous author of a book that transformed education titled “Multiple Intelligences,” was the interviewer of a man named Jeffrey Sachs.
“Who is the Sachs character?” I wondered. I decided to find out by going to their interview at the 92nd Street Y.

Jeffrey Sachs is an economist and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and a Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia’s School of Public Health. He is Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, and the founder and co-President of the Millennium Promise Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending extreme poverty and hunger. From 2002 to 2006, he was Director of the United Nations Millennium Project Millennium Development Goals, eight internationally sanctioned objectives to reduce extreme poverty, hunger, and disease by the year 2015.

This interview blew me away. Some of the highlights were as follows:

“We tend to remember the leaders who kill many people, but not those who imagine the possibility of peace.”

“People don’t tend to think about economics until they are older. It’s related to the question of what works in the world and what doesn’t?”

“My life changed when a Bolivian asked me in 1985 to come to his country and see what it (and runaway inflation) was really like in practice. I went. My life purpose in academia has taken a different path ever since.”

“It turns out that the basic principles of economics apply even at 12,000 feet above sea level!”

“I saw how my practical knowledge could actually be applied, which was somethin that emotionally expanded me and my life purpose.”

“I helped get the unpayable debt of Bolivia cancelled, which resulted in many other Southamerican debt cancellations. It was only because I was tenured at Harvard that I was not scared to talk about such ideas.”

“I happened to go to Poland on April 4, 1989 and was able to participate with and see a revolution happen before my very eyes that related to the dissolving of the Soviet Union and fall of the Berlin Wall.”

“In the midst of our great power, the US is one of the most insular countries in the world.”

“Remember what Margaret Meade famously said: ‘Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.'”

“Transition Economics has now become a field with thousands of followers and disciples and agents.”

“I try to define problems in such a way that they can be solvable.”

“I fell in love with Keynes who dealt with the politics of economics.”

“With most of our real world problems, specialists are not able to help us as much. We need interdisciplinary approaches.”

“I’m still black and blue from the work I attempted to do with Russia just after the USSR dissolved. The Americans simply did not want to make much of a difference there, when they could have done so much. From October 1991 until December 1993 I felt like I was in a Russian hurricane. While I was focused on helping Russia and Poland get on their feet, Cheney and Wolfowitz were focused on securing American dominance in the world.”

“I raised 1 billion dollars for Poland’s currency. I tried to do the same for Russia and hit road block after road block, thanks to people like Cheney.”

“I was told that because 1992 was an election year that my good ideas would not be put into action. I did not believe this could happen at the time. It did.”

“My wife is a physician and so helps me with using the powers of ‘differential diagnoses’ of problems.”

“I went to Zambia early on, saw the realities of malaria, and was in shock that no one was there helping.”

“I worked with the global fund for AIDS, helping Kofi Annon from the United Nations.”

“One of the paradoxes of modern times is that we have so many committed communities of people but that they for the most part of very little access to the policy-makers.”

“I now go around the world having tantrums in public places so it is heard. I had a tantrum the other day at the UN.”

“At the Earth Institute we have 800 scientists and everything on the earth is game!”

“One of my projects right now is small order farmers who can make more food. Obama seems to be excited about it.”

“I worked with Bono on cancelling debt in the developing world and Bono went on to write a book about how poverty can be ended.”

“FDR and JFK were heros of mine because they posed problems in a way that they could be solved. I believe Obama will eventually do that to the same level of skill.”

“Climate change is the absolutely most essential issue right now and so all other goals are linked back to this goal.”

“Quite simply Wall Street needs to say sorry and we need to tax them.”

“We need a better vocabulary of values and ethics.”

Thank you for a very interesting evening, Jeffrey Sachs and Howard Gardner!

A Rainy Evening in the Basement of the NY Main Library with Daryl Pinkney

Posted in Uncategorized on November 8, 2009 by fractalbridge


NY Review of Books Panel at Main Library


On Thursday, November 5th I attended a wonderful event at the NY Public Library on the corner of 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, near Bryant Park. Two floors down into the basement of this famed library was a gathering from NY Time Review of Books representatives Daryl Pinkney, Ester Allen, Michael Cunningham and Greel Markus.

The theme of the evening on this 10th Anniversary of the NY Review of Books included acknowledging the NY Review of Books Classics publication company created by Edwin Frank.

This esteemed panel was interviewed in a well lit room in front of a crowd of about 50 people, their four chairs in a semi-circle, the atmosphere imbued with the flavor of “discussing-great-literature-in-the-basement-of-an old-library-on a-drizzly-November-evening.”

One of the authors had written books with titles like Mystery Train and Lipstick Traces and about people such as Bob Dylan, Bill Clinton, David Lynch and the French Situationalists. I wondered what connected all of these themes.

Part of the topic for the night was publishing houses that focus on classics. One of the members of the panel mentioned that they grew up under the spell of the luminous Penguin Classics with their beautiful covers and sense of authority. Even amongst the most successful of authors there came with Penguin a fantasy that “maybe I will have a book in the Penguin series but I will probably have to be dead first!”

One of the first questions the moderator asked was inherently interesting: “What books did you enjoy so much that you could not put them down?”

Another member of the panel spoke of her deep love associated with publishing houses that bring together such a diversity of different classics: “For me it’s as if I am invited to a party of authors who don’t know each other and I get to introduce them to each other.”

Still another member of the panel spoke of his love of the care that is put into choosing extraordinary art for the covers of the books in the series: “For me it’s almost as if the art on the cover of the books tell me something about the books that the books don’t even know about themselves.”

Care is put into bringing a unique variety and diversity to the collection. For example, on the list of authors of NY Review is the book Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf and other selections you might not necessarily expect; in fact the list is considered so “hyper-decontextualized” that even Harpo Marx is on the list!

The NY Book Review at some point had a special list of “worst sellers” because they noticed that some of those books were often considered some of the most loved and appreciated of the books to their reader base; they often received requests for the worst sellers from readers who felt this would ensure that they would like them!”

Some of the quotes I appreciated from the evening were:

“What I find interesting is what is out of print.”

“Books mess wonderfully with your sense of time.”

“My favorite are the underground, off-beat, romantic books.”

“We all owe a debt to literary critic Edmund Wilson.”

“Read the Anatomy of Melancholy.” (mentioned 3 times)

“I tend to have confidence that if a book is on that list (NY Review of Classics) that it will be transformative for me.”

“Part of the excitement is wondering which book or books in the series will have that deep impact on your life.”

“We all have books that we feel we should read or should have read but for some reason we did not. But then there are books that fall in that interesting category of books that you ‘shouldn’t have read’ but you did, such as Heinlin’s Stranger in a Strange Land!

“We used to have a fun kind of book club in which we had a game where we competed to see who could humiliate themselves the most. The way to win the game was to name a book that almost everyone else in the room has read but you have not, which is a variation of naming a book that no one else in the room has read and you admit that you gave in and read it!”

“My favorite genre is 20th century Russian writers whose work was suppressed under Communist/Soviet rule, and whose work is just now being acknowledged and appreciated.”

“The nice thing about real books as opposed to the electronic/Kindle versions is that you definitely have ‘heft in your hands.’ In the same way, there is something about actually holding a pen or pencil that ingnites something special in some writers.”

But the best quotes of the night were from critic Daryl Pinkney (see photo above):

“Some come to NY to become a Jewish intellectual; I came to NY to become a Mad Black Queen.”

“No, I have not read that book. But I’ve pretended to read it many times.”

“Never say never when it comes to books.”