Monday, 27 February 2012

Systems Dynamics: America's Best-Kept Secret

   According to a Macmillan business book entitled  The Stuff Americans Are Made Of  by Josh Hammond and James Morrison, in what’s called The Orange Grove Experiment, a typical science class assignment for twelve-year-olds in a certain school in Tucson,  Arizona, is plotting the ideal location for a nuclear power plant in four south-western states according to criteria such as water supply, distance from populated areas, terrain requirements, workforce, seismic fault lines, emergency escape routes and so on with the help of a computer model.

   A typical math class assignment for twelve-year-olds in the same school is using a hypothetical credit card to pay hypothetical bills and buy hypothetical necessities or otherwise within credit limits while maintaining a payment schedule involving percentages, decimals, interest rates and penalties.

   To add to the excitement, students get fired from hypothetical jobs so as to make the task of maintaining a good credit relationship with their hypothetical creditors even more challenging.

  Elsewhere, in a class the authors used to call ‘civics’, students hold mock jury trials or town council meetings to discuss raising local taxes to rebuild the town hall while in other classes computer models are used to experiment with simulated versions of literary works such as George Orwell’s Animal Farm or study the mechanism of biological systems or dog-eat-dog relationships in the wild.

   And all of this in a school for eleven-, twelve- and thirteen-year-olds!

   Equally revolutionary is the way chewing gum once disposed of the usual way is no longer a problem for the school’s janitor and the existence of some sort of a group buddy-buddy system that helps students cope even with the loss of a family pet, let alone other more serious personal tragedies, domestic traumas or emotional upheavals.

   Revolutionary stuff indeed and all of it based on what’s called a systems dynamics approach first conceptualized by Professor Jay Forrester of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and applicable to any system from corporations to classrooms, even domestic households.

   The school this systems dynamics approach was first adopted and implemented is the Orange Grove Middle School in Tucson, Arizona, and by the time the Hammond-Morrison book was published in 1996, it wasn’t the only school – elementary, middle or high – in Tucson or elsewhere in the U.S. smitten by the systems dynamics concept.

   How much more of the U.S. was there that has been similarly smitten by this dynamic concept at school level since then I personally didn’t know at the moment, but the point is, based on additional information gleaned from the book concerned, my calculations are the U.S. has had at least a ten-year head start in this matter.

   Woe betide the rest of the world – developed, still developing or under-developed – if my calculations are wrong and the U.S. has had more than a ten-year head start regarding the issue at hand.

Copyright 2000 Thomas L. Carlos

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