Viewing Education As One System
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1994, 2(4), 3-4. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

In the introduction to a monograph titled All One System (1985), Harold Hodgkinson noted that U.S. educators perceived education as a set of discrete institutions working in isolation, with virtually no connection and little awareness of educational activity provided by the total. In fact, the only people who saw these institutions as a system were students.

Hodgkinson argued that "changes in the composition of the group moving through the educational system will change the system faster than anything else except nuclear war" (p. 1). Moreover, if educators can begin to see the educational system as a single entity through which people move, "they may behave as if all of education were related." He likened the educational continuum to a food chain in ecology: any alteration in the food chain will affect organisms at all points in the chain. Hodgkinson cited the way the Baby Boom of 70 million people born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1964 affected schools. As the Boomers moved through the system, educational organizations in each sector—pre-schools, elementary and secondary schools, and postsecondary schools—had to expand enormously, and then contract with equal severity as Boomer cohorts aged out of schools. Other trends (e.g., ethnic diversity, the increasing number of single-parent households, immigration, aging, graduation rates) are interrelated and will affect not just specific sectors, but also the total education system. Hodgkinson argued, therefore, that it is necessary to view education as one system: changes in one component cause changes in others, indeed in all components.

Since Hodgkinson wrote his monograph other factors have come into play. Such events as the end of the cold war and the globalization of every phase of our lives—communication, economic competition, political interaction, technological advances—demand immediate focus on the need for schools and colleges to adequately prepare people for the workforce. Growing numbers of school-business partnerships and college-corporate partnerships are a response to these driving forces as are the growing number of college and university partnerships with local school systems.

Consequently, we are expanding On the Horizon's focus to include K-12 schools and school systems. I have asked our writers to view education as one system and, therefore, to include the implications of signals of change in the macroenvironment for elementary and secondary schools as well as for colleges and universities, beginning with this issue. Although there will continue to be potential changes that will affect mainly one sector or another, most changes will probably have some effect on the continuum of sectors in education. We will describe these effects as well as we can.

To spread the word, we need your help. Please share one of your copies of On the Horizon with your local school superintendent or other contacts within that system, telling them of our change in editorial policy and recommending that they call or write me for more information or for a subscription. We will also mail brochures to those who work in the K-12 sector, but we think that your personal recommendation will be more effective than a mailed brochure. Many thanks!

[Hodgkinson, H. 1985. All one system. Washington, D.C.: Institute for Educational Leadership, Inc.]

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