The Designer Of Systems

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“Education”, she said “is the designer of our systems of the future.” 

They looked at her, bewildered. 

For them education was about securing a path to success. Success was all about the job they would secure once they had the degree from the premier university.

Designing the systems of the future? She must be from another world, they thought.

She looked at them calmly and asked, “Who has designed the systems we live in?”

Why had they never thought about that question before? What was the answer to her strange question? No, she does not expect us to respond with god, they thought. Does she mean our governments that legislate and create institutions? Or could she be wanting us to name the companies that have grown to dominate our Fortune 500 lists? 

She obviously did not expect an answer as she continued, “The systems that produce the food, goods and services that we deem necessary to consume for our standards of living? The systems that facilitate or block our access to consumption? The systems that provide us with entertainment, education, and health to enjoy our time? The systems that provide us a means of cohabiting, reproducing, caring, and pursing common causes? The systems that provide us with culture, art, music, values, and even our purposes?”

She had a point. While we had taken our world and its systems as a given, as what had existed forever, our entire world had been designed for us. But by whom? And how?

“The systems they have designed,” she continued “cause us the pleasure and pain we experience in our times. The only way we can change the pleasure or pain we experience, is by changing the systems that cause it. By redesigning them.” 

Yes. That did follow from the fact that we would experience the pleasure or pain from the systems we participate in. She was making a good point.

Could she be right? Was education the designer of our systems?

“No, government’s do not understand design.” She asserted. “Nor do businesses as they are much too busy in making profits for the next quarter.”

“The teachers in educational institutions are the ones who design the future. They design the purposes we pursue. They design the interactions we have. They design the measures and values of our actions. They design the systems we participate in.”

That took several moments to sink in. They repeated what she had said in their minds. “The teachers in educational institutions are the ones who design the future. They design the purposes we pursue. They design the interactions we have. They design the measures and values of our actions. They design the systems we participate in.”

She had made a powerful point. After all we had all found the purposes we would pursue in our lives in our schools. From the teachers who taught us. After all we had learnt how to interact with each other and the systems around us at school. From our teachers again. After all we had learned to value wealth, income, power, or to value our mountains, forests, rivers instead, at school from the education we got. It is at school where we got measures that decided for us how to make decisions and choose between options. 

If we did not go to school, where would we get our purposes, interactions, the measures, and values of our interactions? Would those we got, then, be free from those who have learnt them from education?

“After all, did we not get our political purposes from Plato’s ideas of politics that laid the foundations for the designs of the political systems from more than 400 years BC? Without the dialectic Plato learnt from his teacher Socrates, and without his student Aristotle furthering political education, would we have shaped the designs of a political age?” She asked. “Without Adam Smith’s teaching at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and then across Europe the ideas that eventually found themselves in the An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776, would we have measured demand, supply, price, value and would there have been an industrial age? Without Shanon at MIT and Watson and Crick at Cambridge would our purposes of a world have ever been driven by technology?”

She was correct. Our education was indeed the designer of our systems of the future. 

The realization made them uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. To be designers of systems for the future, our systems that impart education would need to serve the future. It would need to serve the Short Now, at least a hundred years or the lifetime of a child, not the short-term that it was trapped in. 

Which of our educational institutions served the Short Now? Which of them opened their students to purposes that were not a means to secure a good job? Which of them encouraged them to discover measures of interaction in something other than money and power? Which of them thought them to value anything other than authority?

Which schools placed their teachers in governments and businesses to shape their designs instead of calling government bureaucrats, politicians, and businessmen to shape theirs?

Which school taught us to measure our happiness in terms of anything other than physical pleasure and material possession? Which school gave us anything other than some visible goal which we could set on the horizon to be happy?  

Do our educational institutions need to lack the gifts to hear and see to recognize as Helen Keller did when she noted, “If happiness is to be so measured, I who cannot hear or see have every reason to sit in a corner with folded hands and weep.

If I am happy in spite of my deprivations, if my happiness is so deep that it is a faith, so thoughtful that it becomes a philosophy of life, — if, in short, I am an optimist, my testimony to the creed of optimism is worth hearing.”

Will our schools, then recognize their responsibilities they shoulder as the designers of our systems the future?




#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and/or individuals and organisations that may be quoted and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to the same. 

Anupam Saraph

Anupam Saraph

Dr. Anupam Saraph grew up in a Pune that was possibly a tenth of its current expanse and every road was lined by 200 year old trees. He’s committed to the cause of de-addicting the short-termers.

He can be reached @AnupamSaraph
Anupam Saraph

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